A Most Favored Dictionary, And How It Came Into My Life

Sometime last summer, probably while Israel was attacking Gaza, because I find those times to be the hardest to bear (there are much-beloved people on both sides of the divide, but Israel’s decision to shell a heavily populated enclosure is so far beyond my ability to condone as to make any discussion of it impossible. But I digress.)

In any event, it was June 2011, and I was looking for something to distract myself from a shattering heart.

Someone on Twitter put up a modest link to a press release about an Assyrian Dictionary, and I followed, and got here.

You know how you’ll always remember the moment you fell in love? It was like that, for me.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago generously permits the downloading of its dictionaries, although buying them would set one back a few thousand dollars. I downloaded every one of them, and dove in.

Like the stories in Akkadian myth, splashing around in this dictionary was an exercise in revelation. Not of the mystical variety – etymological revelation. So many words that I’ve used regularly seem to have that Akkadian origin! So many verbs relate to the Akkadian!

I started using this dictionary to search for words that came up in my daily work (remember, I’m a Hebrew<>English translator.) Sometimes there are several translations that feel equivalent, and usually I give the one that feels best, using my native speaker’s sense of what works and what doesn’t. But now I started digging into etymology, and trying to use the words that not only fit well, but also had a longer history.

Not every phrase lends itself to this sort of research. Not every project allows me the luxury of research. I’ve resolved to start recording the insights that come to me when I do it.