December 10, 2016

     I was fortunate to be in New York City when the Morgan Library and Museum held its exhibit on Charlotte Bronte. How thrilling it was to see the original manuscript of "Jane Eyre." What exquisitely neat handwriting for such a passionate spirit! And while I've read many biographies describing how thin and small in stature she was, seeing her size 0 dress and doll-sized shoes was still startling.

     The manuscripts and drawings of the other members of the Bronte family were well-represented. Particularly effecting was the card announcing Emily's death "aged twenty-nine years." The famous "pillar portrait" of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, painted by their brother Branwell, held pride of place. This exhibit marked the first time it, as well as the chalk portrait of Charlotte by George Richmond, has ever been seen outside of England.

     Charlotte's writing desk is a work of art in itself. A wood...

November 28, 2016

     While searching my dictionary for the correct spelling of wildebeest, I came across the word "willie-waught." Willie-waught! Such whimsy and playfulness, I actually smiled when I read it.

     My dictionary is bound with duct tape, its torn pages taped. My kids' dictionaries languish on bookshelves, spines barely creased. The computer has spellcheck, they remind me. I can find any fact I need on the Internet. I agree wholeheartedly we live in a glorious age of information and innovation. But still, I worry. For every technological gain, something is irretrievably lost. In the case of language, can we afford the loss?

     Using the example of an excursion through a dictionary, I suggest the joy of random discovery is greatly diminished. While a computer search would have retrieved everything I ever wanted to know about wildebeests, I'd never have learned of the existence of willie-waught. Or "hogfish," for that matt...

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