As a writer and editor, I have learned that the dictionary is one of my best friends. Unfortunately, I had for many years let our friendship slide, but when I started editing fiction, I realized I needed to get back in touch. The dictionary and I have been BFFs ever since.
Is it a “red brick” building or a “redbrick” building? Should I write that “construction of the new road is underway” or “construction of the new road is under way”? I thought I knew the correct answers, but for many years, I did not. Now I turn to my all-knowing friend, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and lo and behold, there are the answers.
Perhaps I’m fortunate since I was a spelling bee champion from an early age, having earned one of the few social rewards for being a young bookworm. Today, I can spot some errors rather easily. Each Christmas, it kills me (figuratively, not literally) that so many books and magazine articles mention hanging stockings on the “mantle.” A mantle is a sleeveless garment worn over other clothes, a cloak. Why are people hanging their stockings on their cloaks? That shelf above the fireplace is a “mantel.” The dictionary explains all this to those who take the time to look. Good writers look.
But even good writers—and don’t we all aim to be in that category?—aren’t perfect. I shared something recently on my personal Facebook page and mentioned “the books in my Kindle cue.” I vaguely recall looking at the sentence for a half second and thinking, “Cue? Did I spell cue correctly?” And yes, I did spell “cue” correctly. But the next time I glanced at my page, I immediately realized that “cue” was the wrong word. I meant to say “the books in my Kindle queue.” (“Cue” and “queue” are homophones, which will be a topic for another blog post.) So thank goodness we can edit Facebook posts! And thanks to my friend the dictionary, I have the correct words, and the spellings of those words, at my fingertips.