Thursday, February 01, 2007

Triumphus Verbum

Scotto at More Fantasticness! proposes that today (Feb 1) be made a National Word Day, in honor of the anniversary of the publication of the first installment of the Oxford English Dictionary.

On the one hand, this is an awesome idea. There are no nationally recognized or widely celebrated holidays that recognize education at all: no Teachers' Day, no Students' Day (other than the weeklong "Spring Break", which is nonstandard), no Lifelong Learning Day, let alone Reading Day, Science Day, Grammar Day, Mathematics Day, or Coloring Day. A word day seems like one thing that we could all get behind. Especially if you don't call it Spelling Day, which makes people feel anxious. (Not me, though. I won most of my school spelling bees.)

On the other hand, though, there are two big problems with Scotto's proposal.

First, Feb 1st is already a holiday: it's National Freedom Day, since Feb 1st is also the day Abraham Lincoln signed the joint resolution that ultimately became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Second, while I am all about the Oxford English Dictionary -- as faithful a lexicophiliac as they come -- it's not clear why that anniversary should be recognized as National Word Day. It might be the best dictionary, but it certainly wasn't the first, or even the most famous. Also, there's nothing "national" about the OED, at least for citizens of the United States. We don't celebrate Canada's Independence Day, or Bastille Day -- or at least most of us don't. It seems strange to celebrate that most English of English dictionaries as an American holiday.

Which is not to say that we shouldn't reach across the Atlantic and all around the world to clasp hands with English speakers everywhere today. Raise a glass to the English language, that most magnificent of accidents. Sooner or later, everyone gets fucked by a Viking.


Tim said...

I altered this post to reflect that the proposal was Scotto's, not his coblogger Saheli, as I first thought. (I was directed to More Fantasticness! by Saheli's metablog Saheli: The Gathering.

Gavin said...

This may sound incredibly egotistical—although I think it may more accurately be read as an example of the defensive self-deprecation habits that are inevitably assumed by the academically talented—but I used to purposely blow all of the spelling bees in grade school.

I used to win the Geography Bee every year—state finalist twice, what what!—and I both enjoyed the spelling bee a lot less and wanted to not be the only person to win the bees every year.

Again, in fairness, I didn't really know that I'd win the spelling bee, since I'd blow a word early and read a book instead, but regardless, it seemed like good policy to let someone else win. And besides, have you ever seen Spellbound? Those spelling bee kids are scary.