Wildflowers and Dictionaries

A young woman came to my door this week and before she entered the foyer, she handed me these. A bouquet of wildflowers that as soon as she was gone had to be placed outside as the goldenrod makes Lee sneeze. I can not remember the last time someone gave me a bunch of wildflowers all tied up. They are so much more magical than flowers from a florist. It might be the sense of urgency they project. And a bouquet like this can’t help but be received with a sudden smile of thankfulness.

She had called a few days before from Nashville, Tennessee to ask if she could come by to see me and talk about my art practice. How could I say no to that. An interest in combining art with what the natural world has to offer is her passion for now as she sorts out what to do next in her very young life. I showed her my work using earth pigments and constructions of altered plant materials. Then gave her a copy of my book after getting her contact information. There will be other things I can think to share with her somewhere down the line.

Something else I came across this past week was a letter to and from the Merriam-Webster dictionary offices.

I keep it in the back of my dictionary.

The background story is that in 2004 I had finished reading The Life of Pi. In the conclusion of the story it seemed that the evidence of a meerkat was in question. I was quite sure at the time that I knew what one was…but I must add right here that even now spellcheck is questioning me. Anyway, I went to my dictionary to look the word up and found it was not there….nowhere was the word “meerkat”.

I wrote to Merriam-Webster and unfortunately did not keep a copy of that original inquiry as to why the word was not there.

Here is their response:

April 5, 2004

Dear Ms. Webster

You did not mention which Merriam-Webster dictionary you are referring to, but I assume it must be Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary since meerkat was not included in the ninth edition (the one you apparently own). I can’t say for sure why it wasn’t included, but I can tell you that meerkat was entered in the tenth edition of the Collegiate published in 1993 and is still there for the eleventh edition published last year.

Since the English language is constantly changing, you might want to consider purchasing a more recently published dictionary at some point. For the Collegiate Dictionary, for instance, we typically add 10,000 new words and senses for each new edition. Thank you for writing. Feel free to write again.


Joan Narmontas

My response back to Joan on April 9, 2004

Dear Joan,

Thank you for your prompt reply. The dictionary I own that lays open covering the top of the “Information Center” and where the word meerkat is absent is a 1989 Webster’s Enclycopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the Enblish Language.

Surrounded with these books in all their permutations, you may not fully appreciate the value of a dictionary just sitting open at the height of a bent elbow. It is a 1,854-page invitation to learn and reaffirm what knowledge we have regarding meaning, pronunciation and spelling, not to mention the location of places and names in history. The pleasing pattern of a notched fore edge that seduces the fingertips into moving from one set of paired letters to another if for no other reason than to feel that place and flip whole sections of fluttering pages forward and backward.

And the Illustrations! On pages 278-279 there are drawings of a Clipper ship, Clipper bow, Cloister, and Close helmet with its Visor, Ventail and Beaver carefully labeled. How can anyone resist these small, well-placed visual definitions? Just the other day my husband (the same delightful man who built the “Information Center”) brought me an old hand forged iron piece to use in my artwork. “I think it is a clevis or something like that”, he said. We immediately turned to the dictionary and found a picture of a clevis, which clarified that what we had, was the hook that a clevis was constructed for in the first place.

When our children were growing up, every Sunday morning at breakfast we had to all come to the table with a new word. Pronounce it, spell it, define it and use it in a sentence — then you could eat. Our dictionaries have always been used and loved for what they bring into our lives.

So far I have had to add a piece of paper with the formula to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and I see no reason why I can’t simply place the definition for meerkat in the same way….tucked in at page 891 where the word megajoule sits in upper right, just begging to be read about at the bottom of the page and insisting I moisten my finger to turn the page and view a megathere. I love this book. Keep making them.

Best regards,

Sandy Webster


I put these letters about our use and love of a dictionary in this blog with the bouquet of wildflowers because I wonder if these are things of the past.

It would be a shame if they were.

To rely on “spellcheck” all the time can be a mistake, especially when they question “meerkat” and want to turn it into “marketeer”. To use an app that is supposed to identify plants is also not such a good idea. Recently mine could not even recognize a Japanese maple. I still turn to my Audubon and Peterson books for identifications so I can turn actual pages, see a variety of illustrations and read.


Til next time when there seems to be something to say or show.