Digital Tribal and The Other O.E.D.

October 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

I was reading an old summer issue of the New Yorker and in the Talk of the Town section, there was an interview of Lake Bell, who wrote, directed, and starred in a film I’d wanted but hadn’t gotten around to seeing yet, “In a World…” about a voice coach who wants to break into the world of macho movie-narration. The interview took place in my favorite bath house in the financial district on 88 Fulton Street which goes by several different names depending on who you talk to. I know it as Spa 88 because my Latvian friend who first introduced the place to me called it that but the sign outside says Wall Street Bath & Spa, which is how the interviewer, Tad Friend, referenced it. He described the bath house as “a torpor-inducing grotto” which led me to wondering more about this word ‘grotto’ that tickles my senses and feels so good to speak out loud.

Grotto. Grotto. GROTTO.

Saying it out-loud jogged my memory. We threw my sister’s engagement party in one of the grottos Grottos GROTTOS at Griffith Park.

I googled grotto + etymology. (I’m never sure if the + sign is necessary these days, is it still? I learned to search this way and I guess sometimes I still use it.)  The search resulted in a discovery that didn’t blow my mind per se, but led me to grunts of praise: Online Etymology Dictionary. With absolutely no fuss and within seconds, I learned all kinds of basic things about my new favorite word–some things I already knew, or rather assumed to be the case, its Latin roots, for example–but other little tangential items, such as:

Lupercalia (n.)
Roman festival held Feb. 15, in honor of Lupercus, god (identified with Lycean Pan) who had a grotto at the foot of the Palatine Hill, from Latin Lupercalia (plural), from Lupercalis “pertaining to Lupercus,” whose name derives from lupus “wolf” (see wolf (n.)).

The entry also referenced The Oxford English Dictionary, as expected, since the OED is famous for being “the definitive record of the English language, featuring 600000 words, 3 million quotations, and over 1000 years of English.” The OED, by the way, isn’t the world’s largest nor the earliest dictionary of a language; it’s behind The Dutch in breadth and the Germans in time.

I can’t recall the last time I used the OED, favoring Merriam Webster, a preference that probably has mostly to do with working in American publishing where it tends to be the industry standard. That, and the annual personal subscription cost to access the OED online is $295.

At one point, I dreamed of owning a printed version. I’ve no desire now. It doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t even know where to put it in my tiny apartment. It would be like having a roommate–a 4 foot 150 pound lifelong roommate who just sat around collecting dust and only on occasion was useful.

The OED is in its 2nd edition and you and I will likely never see a 3rd printed version. According to the publishers, “it would take a single person 120 years to ‘key in’ the 59 million words to convert it to machine readable form, 60 years to proofread it, and 540 megabytes to store it electronically.” My immediate reaction: shock and wonder. Then I took pause. Why on earth would only one person be tasked with this responsibility? Diversion. Nicely spun, Publishers. We know the true bottom line, literally, figuratively: loosely close your fist, rub the tips of your thumb and pointer finger in a brisk circular motion. Keep doing it.

I’m excited to use “the other” OED–the one that’s free and to which I happily donated $10 for its useful service. Useful…reminds me, it’s been a few weeks…I could sure use a good shvitz at the Grotto Grotto GROTTO!


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