One Letter Words: A Dictionary by Craig Conley. Hardcover book published 2005.
I first saw this book at a friends house a few months ago. It was sitting on his shelf amidst a collection of Latin and Yiddish dictionaries (that’s 2 different sorts of dictionaries although if there was a “Latin Yiddish, Yiddish Latin” dictionary, I’m sure he would have it) and various other books looking at the use of language (Eats, Shoots & Leaves etc. being one of the more popular titles). I had a good look at it and thought to myself this is a very strange book…
Anyway, a few weeks after that, and Huc & Gabet had acquired a copy. Casually over dinner with a few other friends, I mentioned this book... obviously it had stuck in my mind or why else would I mention this book over all the others I had recently acquired… and why else would I write about it here. Friend No.1 (a bookseller) was amazed and excited indicating that he would be eagerly awaiting a copy to hit his shelves. Friend No.2 (a scientist) claimed it was obviously a sham and not a worthy tome. Both of these people had never seen the book. Upon reflection, I believe both of these comments are appropriate.
I think as a dictionary it fails. The book is set out like a dictionary but possibly a little less formal. It has the word dictionary in the title because… it is a dictionary, but as crazy as this may sound it isn’t really a dictionary. Lets look at the word “O”. There are 62 listings under “O”, to get a meaning you need to read 8 pages of text. Granted the book has divided up the definitions into categories… but still, for a quick look up in the dictionary I think it fails, it is a sham. As a look at the use of language particularly in print, I think it is interesting, if that’s what your interested in.
My friend who has the book on his shelf is very interested in the use of language and language in general (truely a man of letters)… which I guess is why it’s on his shelf. So I asked him via email if he had used the book as a “dictionary”. His response: “I've never actually looked up a word/letter in it. I read it from cover to cover once.” I think this is a conformation of my thoughts on the book and on the comments of No.1 and No.2. As a dictionary this book is a sham, a dictionary it’s not. As a book about language and words, it is interesting and entertaining… something to peruse and enjoy, for the sake of perusement and enjoyment. So… peruse and enjoy.