This is a copy of the Oxford Children’s Dictionary in Colour from the seventies, as I’m sure you could tell. I found it on a dusty shelf at work when we moved offices – fancifully, I feel like it must have been happy to be opened again after so many years. The illustrations are quite lovely, they have an honesty and naivety which is more unusual in modern reference books.
There are three reasons I wanted to share this forty-year-old book. Firstly, to mark the end of my time working in the Children’s Dictionaries department. I am moving to work more broadly across the children’s list and I am scared and excited to start my first permanent job.
Secondly, I wanted to talk about dictionaries themselves. I may be biased, as I’ve spent a year working on various dictionaries for children, but I believe they are beautiful in a way that is often overlooked. In their precision and their balance, in the brief crystallization of meaning, and in the essentially elegant presentation of so much information, they are beautiful.
They also capture a moment of time – not only in the stylish dresses of the ladies in the shop queue and the mermaid unencumbered by shell bra, but also in the language which they record, in increasingly agile ways.
And thirdly, because this dictionary sums up what I hope this blog is turning out to be about (when it’s not about me) – which is beautiful things from another time, which we can blow the dust off and admire anew.