The Encyclopedia Brittanica Dictionary

Published 11:56am Friday, March 23, 2012

Today, like cashiers that have to look up to the digital display above their registers to see how much change should be given back for a candy bar when given a dollar, or  God forbid, a dollar and two pennies, any person can simply type in a word and their trusted computer alerts them that they have spelled a word incorrectly (although I must say that I’ve had to insist to my own Mac that, no, I have not misspelled Brittanica. Trust me. It doesn’t matter how many times you underline it in red).
But as a child this modern marvel was not available and my parents, having sunk a great deal of money in these books essentially washed their hands of any further educational assistance.
“Mom!” I called, hunched over a homework assignment. “How do you spell pneumonia?”
“What’s that, dear?” called my mother from the kitchen.
“Pneumonia! How do you spell pneumonia?”
“Look it up.” came that teeth-grindingly, frustrating, reply.
“How can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” I countered.
“I spent a bloody fortune buying that set,” announced my father, walking through the den with the newspaper, on his way to the bathroom. “And I didn’t spend it so that you could be lazy and not look things up.”
“But how can I look it up,” I said slowly, deliberately, as if speaking to a foreigner, “if I don’t know how to spell it?!”
“Well,” replied my mother rationally. “You’ll know how to spell it once you look it up, won’t you?”
In exasperation, I pored through the ‘N’ section and found no mention of pneumonia. “I can’t find the bloody word!”
My mother, laying the table for dinner, poked her head through the doorway.
“Stop swearing. I don’t know where you pick up such language!”
“It’s another symptom of laziness!” yelled my father from the bathroom. “People who swear don’t have the intellectual capability or vocabulary to use an appropriate word to describe their feelings, so they swear instead!”
“Well, I’m never going to be able to finish my homework or have a vocabulary…” I muttered.
“You will if you want to go to that school dance tonight.” my mother threatened. “By the way, there won’t be any drugs there, will there?”
“Good. But be careful. You never know; someone could try to slip marijuana in the punch.”
I did, by the way, eventually finally find ‘pneumonia’ in the dictionary.
But ‘quay’ took me forever.

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