The Dangerous Dictionary

The dictionary is a dangerous thing, and I’ll tell you why. Because I am Very Tired tonight, and I planned to just write a quick little blog entry and then go to bed. I need to write the entry because I’ve received something like a Complaint, and so must needs do something about it now, before I go to bed. But the entry I have in mind involves the use of the dictionary, and the dictionary is a dangerous thing.

You see, I was on my way to writing about a brand new word, just developed this evening, when I stumbled across this word: hendecasyllabic. And this boggles the mind or, at the very least, arrests it. You can’t just glance over something like this; this is not something to be taken lightly. No. You have to figure out how to pronounce it (and this you do by taking a guess, without looking at the phonetic spelling, and then you “check your work,” as they used to say in math class, by testing your guess against the phonetic spelling), and then are pleased because you figured it out correctly.

Then you have to see if “hendeca” means 11, which it does, and you knew that, But Still. “Hendeka” is Greek (you knew that, didn’t you?). And then you have to see (and this is the favorite part of the dictionary entry, really) What Year the word came into use. There is nothing more fascinating than this little fact that the dictionary so casually drops on you whenever it can. “Hendecasyllabic” came into use circa (circa!) 1751, which I guess means that it might have been 1750, or even 1752, or something like that. But I Love It that they say 1751. And really, who’s to doubt them? Not Me. 1751 sounds great.

And then, of course, you have to check the definition, and you think you know. You think it means “having 11 syllables,” and that is, indeed, what it means. But– Amazing!– it also means “composed of verses of 11 syllables,” and this Stuns You. This means that Something, maybe Many Things, have been composed of verses having 11 syllables, and this makes you sit slack-jawed for just a little bit. Because someone (maybe) has done this– has written a poem somewhere that has verses of 11 syllables. Someone has been deliberate about that effort, and has Done It, has created it, to Some Effect. What effect? What? I am wondering. I want to know. Who are these people, or this person, who has done this, who has thought this through, who has written this out, and so given rise to a reason for the word “hendecasyllabic”? I don’t know Who it is, but I Love Him (or Her).

What a marvelous thing.

A hendecasyllabic song. A hendecasyllabic poem. Indeed. That’s the Way.

It’s 10:24 now. I sat down with the dictionary over twenty minutes ago. See? The dictionary is Dangerous.

Anyway, here’s the new word, coined this evening on a screened porch, eating fabulous leftovers, while our children caught tiny toads and played soccer on the lawn in the waning light of a summer afternoon:

Innuendoeing (in-ye-‘wen-do-ing) v [kenndebbie] (2005) making oblique allusions, hints, insinuations.

It’s a good word. Try to throw it around some; maybe it will make it into the Real Live Dictionary.

3 thoughts on “The Dangerous Dictionary

  1. A thrill it is to catch a tiny toadlingOr hop upon the lawn just like a rabbitBut funner still to write a verse totallingA special meter: <>hendecasyllabic<>!


  2. Ok, on second thought… maybe it’s not funner. Catching toads is loads of fun, afterall (as long as they aren’t UnderToads).


  3. Look what you can find when you google a word:Alfred, Lord TennysonHendecasyllabicsPoem lyrics of Hendecasyllabics by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.O you chorus of indolent reviewers,Irresponsible, indolent reviewers,Look, I come to the test, a tiny poemAll composed in a metre of Catullus,All in quantity, careful of my motion,Like the skater on ice that hardly bears him,Lest I fall unawares before the people,Waking laughter in indolent reviewers.Should I flounder awhile without a tumbleThro’ this metrification of Catullus,They should speak to me not without a welcome,All that chorus of indolent reviewers.Hard, hard, hard it is, only not to tumble,So fantastical is the dainty meter.Wherefore slight me not wholly, nor believe meToo presumptuous, indolent reviewers.O blatant Magazines, regard me rather –Since I blush to belaud myself a moment –As some rare little rose, a piece of inmostHorticultural art, or half-coquette-likeMaiden, not to be greeted unbenignly.


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