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the dictionary project author interview: brent hendricks

Photo by Kate Bernheimer

Photo by Kate Bernheimer


I read Brent Hendricks memoir A Long Day At the End of the World on an airplane ride, flying from the desert where I live to the swamp where I was born. And this liminal space was a fitting and somewhat eery space for musings on death and life; on the disintegration of expectations, relationships, bodies; on the apocalypse. My friend and writer Frankie Rollins once talked about how driven we are as humans to stories and to story our existence. “Look at all the post-apocalyptic novels and films,” she said. “We can’t even imagine the ending without more story.” And when we are through with these stories, we return to ones of creation. The big questions like that of our own mortality, as individuals and as a collective, jar us into story-making. I think what I appreciate most about Brent’s book is its meditative quality, returning and returning to unanswerable questions and events to try to make sense of them, to hold them to the light in an attempt at understanding. Please enjoy his interview below.



1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:


At some point in college, I think after reading Walker Percy’s The Moviegoier, I decided I’d look up every word I came across that I didn’t know. This meant lugging around a dictionary in my book bag or paging through one of those giant dictionaries propped up at the library in the old days. After a while, because it took some commitment, there was a degree of ritual to the gesture and the dictionary became a kind of sacred text for me. A monkish act, in the only way I knew how.



2. What is your current favorite word?

Dark, because it feels so ancient and old-school Anglo-Saxon. You know there’s that Auden poem, “The Wanderer,” where he explicitly employs pre-Norman invasion words to create that weird (as in “fated”) Dark Age effect: “Doom is dark and deeper than any sea-dingle.” Doom’s a pretty good one, too, come to think of it.



3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?


Dingle, of course, because if not connected to “sea-dingle” I automatically think of dingleberry. I doubt I’m alone in this irritation. The compound word is an Americanism that, in single conflation, reveals the essential difference between the two cultures.



4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?


Well, “berry” was one of then. Remember that terrific Robert Hass poem, “Meditation at Lagunitas,” ending with “blackberry, blackberry, blackberry”? “Berry” is also of Old English derivation and, at the risk of revealing too much, I’d have to say I used to love eating blueberries and blackberries. However, those innocent days are all but past due to the above corruption.



5. I have been reading your new book A Long Day at the End of the World: A Story of Desecration and Revelation in the Deep South. I remember talking to you about this book at a party at the side of a pool a few years ago when it was still in draft form and many of questions and ideas you expressed then reverberate through the book now: particularly the “whys” of death and life and our attempts as humans to reconcile our own deaths and the life and death of our world. I think we all have stories from our lives we need to write our way into and out of. What was at the root of your need to write this particular story?


Money, first, which I wanted more of. And second, fame, which I also callously desired. I’m really much more famous than I used to be. Third, though obviously an ancillary cause, I truly felt the gothic nature of the Tri-State Crematory Incident — the largest mass desecration in modern American history — deserved some storyline expansion, particularly as my father’s body was one of those left abandoned at the crematory site for five long years. There were bodies piled up in pits, bodies stuffed into metal vaults, bodies scattered through thick brush of a North Georgia crematory — blackly fantastic, all of it. And fourth, less overtly significant than the first three, I was demonically captured by Giorgio Agamben’s take on Walter Benjamin’s take on Saint Paul’s take on messianic time, or “now-time,” or “the time of the now.” My thralldom, if that’s what you call it, led me to believe I could project, contemporaneously, many different histories unto the present. That I could bring past events forward onto the page.  It’s a method really, a dark one, forcing me to cast onto my otherwise expiatory road trip (a terrific and rarely used narrative device) such unrelated and “shoehorned” events as the conquistador Hernando de Soto’s rampage through the South, the civil war and civil rights, environmental degradation and its consequences, the Book of Revelation, and some other botanical stuff about flowers. The causes, then, are many, involving most of the deadly sins and my own demonic possession.  It’s really quite disturbing.



6. Could you define “desecration” and “revelation”?


In ancient Greek, the original language of the New Testament, “apocalypse” means “revelation.” In this context, for me at least, a revelation reaches far beyond the realm of personal insight so as to suffuse a moment of “now time” with the fullest of  possibility, while intimating, in relation to the horizon of that moment, some inevitable end-point. Usually happens if I have a second cup of coffee.


Desecration is just everything else — all the non-illuminating instances that exist outside the glow of that second cup of coffee.



7. Please respond to the following words* and definitions, picked exclusively at random for you:



hole  (hōl),  n.  [ME.; AS. hol.  orig. neut. Of holh, adj. hollow; hence akin to G. hohl, hollow; IE. base *qaul-, *qul-, hollow, hollowed thing, as also in L. caulis, stalk, cabbage (cf. COLE, CAULIFLOWER],  1.  a hollow or hollowed-out place; cavity; specifically a) an excavation; pit: as, he dug a hole in the ground.  b)  a small bay or inlet; cove: often in place names. c) a poor or deep, relatively wide place in a stream: as, a swimming hole. d) an animal’s burrow or lair; den; hence  2.  a small dingy, squalid place; any dirty, badly lighted room, house, etc.  3.  a prison cell. 4. a) an opening in or through anything; break; gap; as, a hole in the wall.  b)  a tear or rent, as in a garment.  5.  a flaw; fault; blemish; defect: as, we found holes in his argument.  6.  [Colloq.], an embarrassing situation or position; predicament.  7.  in golf, a) a small, round hollow palce into which the ball is to be hit.  b) the tee, fairway, greens, etc. leading ot this: as, 18 holes of golf.  v.t.  [HOLED (  ), HOLING],  1.  to make a hole or holes in.  2.  to put, hit, or drive into a hole.  3. to create by making a hole: as, they holed a tunnel through the mountain.


Following the medieval practice of sortes biblicae — in which a person with a question randomly opens the Bible to seek God’s answer — I’ll do my best to seek guidance in these similarly plucked words. I’ll therefore use these offerings to assist with my primary existential question: Should I actually dig a hole in the backyard and climb in it? I wonder about this a lot. I am not kidding.



ha·bit  (ˈhabit),  n.  [ME.; OFr.; L. habitus, condition, appearance, dress; pp. of habere, to have, hold], 1.  costume; dress.  2.  a particular costume showing rank, status, etc.; specifically, a)  a distinctive religious costume; as, a monk’s habit.  b)  a costume worn for certain occasions: as, a woman’s riding habit.  3.  habitual or characteristic condition of mind or body; disposition; as, a man of healthy habit.  4.  a thing done often and hence, usually, done easily; practice, custom, act that is acquired and has become automatic; hence, 5. a tendency to perform a certain action or behave in a certain way; usual way of doing: as, he does it out of habit.  6.  an addiction: as, the alcohol habit.  7.  in biology, the tendency of a plant or animal to grow in a certain way; characteristic growth; as, a twining habit.  v.t.  1. to put a habit on; dress; clothe.  2.  [Archaic], to inhabit.


Okay, so I will dig a hole in my backyard and climb in it — because, over time and with practice, the act might be “done easily” and even lead to a certain “tendency” in the ground, “as, a twining habit.” This “twining” sounds like something pretty revelatory, too, as long at can still happen to an animate object.



ten·der·foot (ˈtendərˌfo͝ot),  n.  1.  a person who tends, or has charge of, something.  2.  a small ship for supplying a large one.  3.  a boat for carrying passengers, etc. to or from a large ship close to shore.  4.  a railroad car carrying coal and water for a steam locomotive, to the rear of which it is attached.


Okay, now I’m totally confused as to the dictionary god’s will, because I thought a tenderfoot was a “novice” or “greenhorn.” Is God (or the dictionary god) telling me that I’m a greenhorn at interpreting signs and divine wishes. Are the heavens mad at me? I guess I’ll just stand out in the backyard for a while, shovel in hand, and try to think it all through.



Jute  (jo͞ot), n.  [AS, Iote, Yte: L. Iuta], a member of any of several Germanic tribes that lived long ago in Jutland: Jutes invading southeastern England in the 5th century A.D. spearheaded the Anglo-Saxon conquest.


Okay, back on track, right? Angles, Saxons, and Jutes — in naming the third Germanic peoples who originally invaded England and so helped to create all those Old English words in the first place, I think we have a winner. I should definitely dig that hole and lie in it. That’s exactly what a Jute would do.



Philemon  (fəˈlēmən), [L.; Gr. Philemon, lit., affectionate], a masculine name.  n.  1.  the Epistle to Philemon, a book in the New Testament which was a message from the Apostle Paul to his convert Philemon: abbreviated Phil.  2.  in Greek mythology, an old man who, with his wife, Baucis, shared what little he had with the disguised Zeus and Hermes.


Wait a second. What is Saint Paul (by way of the dictionary god) trying to tell me here … that I should free the slaves within me? Maybe he’s saying it doesn’t matter what I do. Dig or not dig. Lie or not lie. According to Paul — am I being directed to this? — the messianic vocation is to seek the revocation of every vocation (1 Cor 7:29-32) (Agamben, The Time That Remains), with my vocation being to wonder continually about my particular existential question. Forget about it, Paul seems to be saying. Remember there’s not much time left, which may or may not be self-evident, and which may or may not necessitate climbing in a hole. After all, and like always, there’s only the time that remains. 






Brent Hendricks is the author of A Long Day at the End of the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013).


*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: College Edition, copyright 1955


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the dictionary project author interview: tc tolbert

Today, I’m delighted to share an author interview with tc tolbert. TC is a brilliant poet and essayist whose work asks important questions about space, about the body, about how we interact with one another in regard to space and the body and about how we might do that better, about both the tenacious and the tender aspects of the human heart. In addition to his own writing, he is committed to seeking out, sharing, and providing spaces for the work of others. He has two chapbooks, spirare and territories of folding, and his first book Gephyromania comes out in 2014.  Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, an anthology he co-edited, just came out in March of this year. He also co-curates Trickhouse Live, a reading series affiliated with the online journal Trickhouse, which features artists working in different media sharing their work. Please enjoy his words below!


Photo by Sam Ace

Photo by Sam Ace


1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:


I found the title of my first book, Gephyromania, in this thing called an “Illustrated Reverse Dictionary.” I bought it at a garage sale, strictly for the title. I don’t totally understand it but it’s got lots of random lists – kinds of boats, -ologies and –ographies, types of garden predators, etc – and from those lists you can either find the word you were looking for or find the word you didn’t know you were looking for but the word you clearly need. That’s what happened to me. I was just picking through it and I came across the list of phobias and manias and there was “gephyromania” – “an addiction to, or an obsession with, bridges.” And I had been working in a notebook I titled “bridge” – both for the idea that it was to carry me over some daunting (emotional) terrain and as a nod to the musical bridge that signals a contrast or a tangent. I desperately needed both and thus, the writing, the poems.

Also, I’m truly obsessed with what it takes, how it happens that two bodies (of any kind) come to connect. And what, then, is passed or carried over, along, or between them.



2. What is your current favorite word?


My favorite words have always been swear words. I grew up Pentecostal in Tennessee and there was a very real belief that how one used language could determine not just one’s experience of the current moment but all of eternity. Of course that’s dramatic but look at it this way. All you had to do was say, “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior” and boom, you were golden. My Papaw had cancer in his lymph nodes and people in the church laid hands on him and said, “you are healed” and, yep, he was. It was the words that made identity and body real. The flip side of that sort of literal relationship to language was with swear words – where certain words were off-limits and could cause eternal damnation (as opposed to salvation). So, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” was imbued with such a level of sacrilege and terror that I genuinely believed if I ever uttered the word “goddamn” I would be sealing my fate right then and there.

But I’ve never been one for just following the rule without testing it. So, as a kid I would wander into the woods near my house and sit in a little ditch and practice smoking cigarettes and saying “fuck” with different inflections. I tried to imagine every context possible in which I could toss around the f-bomb with clarity and grace. Then I would do the same with “goddamn.” Each day I was a little bit surprised and emboldened to find that I could swear and not be killed on the spot. But then again, I spent thousands of hours with major stomach aches and the shits thinking god was getting me back for all of the swearing (and masturbating) I’d done. As it turns out, I just have a gluten sensitivity and I ate too many Little Debbies. The god of my upbringing was not only severe but fantastically so.



3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?


Judge. I don’t like it b/c I think it’s too often wielded as an attempt to shame folks for being discerning or having boundaries. I don’t like the way judgment has taken on a sort of blanket negative connotation. To say, “I like that” or to have a clear sense that “I don’t want that in my life” or “I do want this in my life” that seems like a good and healthy way to move through the world. We make positive judgments all the time. That’s how we determine everything from what to wear in the morning to life partner to favorite ice cream!

When I worked at the queer youth center and I worked closely with the anti-violence project, I saw too many instances of people being abused and trying to get out of it but experiencing a kind of public shaming for “judging” the abuser and for “not being compassionate enough.” The words judgment and compassion became these linguistic vortexes to keep people in very damaging situations so I’m wary anytime I hear someone speak or act as if judgment is a universally negative thing.

That said, I also understand that judgment can easily turn into a sort of rigidity that is then used as a measuring stick for what others should like or believe and that is obviously counterproductive.

I’d like to see the word judge used in a less “judgy” way, I suppose. I mean, it’s a complex word and idea and I think that’s what people are pointing at when they use the word judge in a negative way (do we ever complain when someone judges us positively? I don’t think I do) – that lack of context and complexity.



4. What word has been your recent or past muse?


Troubled and troubling. I like these words especially for the bl sounds – how silly they make our mouths – how you can’t actually be that serious when you say trouble – it’s so buoyant and playful. I like the contrast between their vocalization and meaning. I also think it’s hilarious – this idea of “being in trouble.” I mean, it’s something I worry about so much (see above – Pentecostal) and yet I recognize the absurdity. It’s an adolescent kind of word, I think, with grown-up aspirations.

Also, both words reference Judith Butler and the Bible, simultaneously. I love how they conflate danger/threat and healing/freedom. These themes and references all went into the title Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, a book I just co-edited with Tim Trace Peterson. (link to purchase book: http://www.upne.com/1937658106.html) I think trans and genderqueer poets and poetries are dangerous/threatening to our gendered cultural confines and we (trans and genderqueer poets and poetries) offer multiple avenues of freedom and healing from those confines.

Also, fricative. I love that word. How it makes your mouth do what it means. I want all of my poems to be that embodied.



6. I bibliomanced a word from the anthology and that word was “splendor.” What would be your personal definition of “splendor”?


I think of splendor as an undetermined space – the space of the question – Rilke imploring that we “love the questions themselves.” I’m picturing the component parts of a computer caught on film in midair – are they falling or flying? I have no idea.

The space of unknowing. Pause. A kind of holy attention.

That moment in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, this:

“What is the meaning of life? That was all—a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other; herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying “Life stand still here”; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent)–this was of the nature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. Life stand still here, Mrs Ramsay said.”

I feel myself moving into that space of splendor right now, actually. As Troubling Tucson: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry Symposium is only 2 days away and my life has been so completely consumed with logistics for the symposium and yet here I am – on the cusp of seeing it realized – in that liminal space right where the thing moves from an idea into a being. It’s thrilling, a little bit terrifying, and a way of focusing my attention so clearly on exactly where I am. There is a beautiful and open calm right now – it feels like a gift to me.



7. Where do words reside in the body?


Well, my words reside in my right trapezoid. I know that because for quite some time now I’ve had an overuse injury there and I literally feel the words start there when I write.



8. Please respond to the following words* and definitions, picked exclusively at random for you:


ca·ba·na  (kəˈbanə; Sp. kəˈbanyə),  n.  [Sp. cabaña; LL. capanna, hut], 1.  a cabin, cottage, or hut.  2.  a small shelter used as a bathhouse. Also cabaña


“Oh, Mandy. You came and you gave without taking. And I need you today, oh, Mandy. When you kissed me, you stopped me from shaking. And I need. You.”

 The next person to sing this to me (which would also be the first person to sing this to me) will have my ever-lasting devotion. I’m just saying. I fucking love Barry Manilow. Now you know the way to my heart.



dis·place·ment  (disˈplāsmənt),  n.  1. a displacing or being displaced.  2.  the weight or volume of air, water, or other fluid displaced by a floating object, as a balloon or a ship.  3.  the difference between a later position of a thing and its original position; hence, 4. in geology, a fault.  5.  in psychiatry, the transference of an emotion to a logically inappropriate object.


I used to hate my body. I thought it betrayed me. Then John Cage said, it’s lighter than you think.



di·e·sis  (ˈdī-ə-səs),  n. [pl. DIESES (-sez’], [L.;Gr. diesis  <  diienai, to send through  <  dia-, through + hienai, to send], a reference mark ( ‡ ) used in printing: also called double dagger.


The first woman I fell in love with was the 3rd base woman on my softball team. We were in 6th or 7th grade. I suppose you could say we were girls.



keep  (kēp),  v.t.  [KEPT (kept), KEEPING], [ME. kepen; AS. cepan, to behold, watch out for, lay hold of; ? akin, via *kopjan, to ON. kopa, to stiffen, gape, MLG. Kapen, to gape, stare at, AS. capian up, to look up at; ? IE. base *gab-, to look at or for],  1.  to observe or pay regard to; specifically, a) to observe with due or prescribed acts, ceremonies, etc.; celebrate or solemnize; as, they kept the Sabbath. b) to fulfill (a promise, etc.). c) [Archaic], to show observance by regularly attending (church, etc.).  2.  to take care of, or have and take care of; specifically, a) to protect; guard; defend. b) to look after; watch over; tend. c) to raise (livestock). d) to maintain in good order or condition; preserve. e) to supply with food or lodging for pay: as, she keeps boarders. g) to have or maintain in one’s service or for one’s use: as, they keep servants. h) to set down regularly in writing; maintain (a continuous written report or record): as, he keeps an account of sales in the store. i)  to make regular entries in; maintain a continuous record of transactions, accounts, or happenings in: as, businessmen keep books, she keeps a diary. j) to carry on; conduct; manage.  3.  to maintain, or cause to stay or continue, in a specified condition, position, etc.: as, keep your engine running. 4.  to have or hold for future use or for a long time. b) to have usually in stock for sale.  5.  to have or hold and not let go; specifically a) to hold in custody; prevent from escaping. b) to prevent from leaving; detain. c) to hold back; restrain: as, the rain kept us from going out. d) to withhold. e) to conceal; not tell (a secret, etc.)  f) to continue to have or hold; not lose or give up. G) to stay in or at; not leave (a path, coruse, or place).


Three women were found alive in a Cleveland home last night. One of them has a 6-year-old daughter. All of them have been missing for over 10 years.



medium bomber  (B-25 Mitchell, 1940 from image: Types of Airplane)


It’s in me. That’s the thing. It arrived in me, too.




TC Tolbert is a genderqueer, feminist poet and teacher. Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, instructor at University of Arizona and Pima Community College, and wilderness instructor at Outward Bound, s/he is the author of Gephyromania (forthcoming, Ahsahta Press, 2014) and chapbooks spirare (Belladonna*, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press, 2011). TC is co-editor, along with Tim Trace Peterson, of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2013). TC writes monthly lyric essays on the trans body, intimacy, architecture, and public space for The Feminist Wire and s/he recently curated a trans and queer issue of Evening Will Come for the Volta. TC is a regular curator for Trickhouse, an online cross-genre arts journal and s/he is the creator of Made for Flight, a youth empowerment project that utilizes creative writing and kite building to commemorate murdered transgender people and to dismantle homophobia and transphobia. Thanks to Movement Salon and the Architects, TC keeps showing up and paying attention. John Cage said, it’s lighter than you think.


*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: College Edition, copyright 1955

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the dictionary project author interview: janice lee




the dictionary project is happy to share with you our most recent author interview with Janice Lee. Janice’s work is insightful, intensely curious, and without bounds. In reading her work, we begin to see words and phrases we have seen before in completely new ways because of the way in which she places, considers, turns them in her work. Please enjoy.


1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:


I recently learned the story of W.C. Minor, one of the largest contributors of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary. As a surgeon for the Union Army, he was given the duty of punishing a fellow soldier by branding his face with “D” for deserter, which just pushed him over the edge. He then moved to England where he murdered a man in a delusional fit, and was committed to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. A lover of books and words, Minor heard of a call for volunteers (specifically for quotes from verifiable sources backing up definitions) from what was to become the Oxford English Dictionary. Minor developed a system for going through his books in search of illustrative quotes and ended up supplying the OED with a massive 12,000 illustrative quotes. Each submission was marked with the return address “Broadmoor Asylum,” so the editors assumed Minor was a doctor in charge, not a patient. It was many years later before OED editor James Murray learned of Minor’s background and visited him at the asylum.



2. What is your current favorite word?


Moosh. It’s what we call our dogs: Moosh #1 and Moosh #2.



3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?


Currently I’m pretty annoyed by all the filler words we use in oral speech: actually, basically, you know, like, etc. I use these words too. A lot. It’s a horrible habit. I feel like I have a disorder when I catch myself saying “You know” over and over again. It makes our speech so cluttered and ugly. I wish we were taught to care more about articulate and beautiful language in spoken speech just as in written.



4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?





5. What can language contain? What can it not ever contain?


Language can contain almost everything, the beginning, the end, the inevitable ruin of a world, the collapse and betrayal of truth, the compacted pain of life and death, but in words, only in words. It can not contain the same permanence of time that film offers, for example. Or the power given to a viewer in the prolonged gaze of a slow-moving herd of cows.



6. In your novel Daughter, there are many places in which you invite the reader to engage, to create story with you, by asking them to draw, by having only the placeholder for [image] rather than a literal image. Could you talk about what’s said and unsaid in your work? And about the prompts to allow reader to make meaning along with you?


The momentum in Daughter partially comes from the desire for understanding. The daughter asks questions from a certain vantage point assigned to her by the author. The reader sits from a different vantage point, and any significance that arises from the language of the book is a collaboration, a microcosm of the secret discourse that occurs between wondering minds and souls. And part of this “understanding,” comes from the notion that “meaning” is not the same thing as “understanding” is not the same thing as “clarity” is not the same thing as “certainty.”



7. What role do definitions/does defining play in your work?


Defining a word freezes it momentarily. Because in the context of many other words, a single word can be flexible, in constant tension with the other words surrounding it, anticipating, inseparable. When I define a word, I can fix it, and then also subvert it, and reshape it. This is why the etymology of a word often interests me. Because words can change, and when language changes, so does thought.



8. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, bibliomanced exclusively for you:


cre·dit  (`kredit),  n.   [Fr. crédit; It. credito; L. creditus, pp. of credere; see CREED],  1.  belief; confidence; trust; faith.  2.  the quality of being credible or trustworthy.  3.  the favorable estimate of a person’s character; reputation; good name.  4.  praise or approval to which a person or thing is entitled; commendation: as, he deserves credit for telling the truth.  5.  a person or thing bringing approval or honor: as, he is a credit to the team.  6.  usually pl. acknowledgment of work done, as in the preparation of a motion picture.  7.  the amount of money remaining in a person’s account in a bank, etc.  8.  in accounting, a)  the acknowledgment of payment on a debt by entry of the amount in an account.  b)  the right-hand side of an account, where such amounts are entered.  c)  an entry on this side.  d)  the sum of such entries.  9.  in business,  a)  trust in one’s integrity in money matters and in one’s ability to meet payments when due.  b)  the time allowed for payment.  10.  in education,  a)  the certification of a student’s successful completion of a unit or course of study.  b)  a unit of work so certified.  v.t.  1.  to believe; trust; have confidence or faith in.  2.  to bring approval or honor to.  3.  to give deserved commendation for.  4.  to give credit in a bank account, etc.  5.  in accounting, to enter on the credit side.  6.  in education, to enter a credit or credits on the record of (a student).  Abbreviated cr.  –SYN, see ascribe.


It is the horse today who is the witness of credit, so that it is not significant who pulls the cart, the girl or the horse.



hin·ny  (ˈhinē),  n.  [ pl. HINNIES (-iz)], [L. hiinnus  <  Gr. ginnos], the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey: distinguished from mule.

“Say, honey, why?” says the hinny, its hair combed down and collar adjusted for a casual afternoon outing.



ex·ile  (ˈegzīl),  n.  [ME. exil, exile; OFr. exil, essil; L. exilium, exsilium  <  exul, exsul, an exile, one banished  < ex-, out + IE. base *al-, to wander aimlessly; hence skin to GR. alaomai, I wander, roam, am banished],  1.  a prolonged living away from one’s country, community, etc., usually enforced; banishment, sometimes self-imposed.  2.  a person in exile.  v.t.  (also ig-zīl’), [EXILED (-zīld, -sīld, -zīld’), EXILING], to force (a person) to leave his own country, community, etc.; banish. –SYN.  see banish.

He goes home sadly, in the rain, stops and sits for a moment at the engraved statue in the square, another figure in exile. The rain destroys everything. “What’s the point anymore?” he asks no one in particular before making a comprehensive list of all the things he won’t ever use again.



whan·gee  (hwaŋ-ˈē),  n.  [prob.  < Chin. Huang-li; huang, yellow + li, bamboo cane],  1.  any of a number of related Chinese and Japanese bamboos.  2.  a walking stick made from any of these bamboos.


It’s raining. He grasps the whangee handle until it hurts. It’s always raining. So he has no real excuse then.


com·pa·ra·ble  (ˈkämp(ə)rəbəl),  adj.  [L. comparabilis],  1.  that can be compared; having characteristics in common.  2.  worthy of comparison.

“Language–or any comparable apparatus of recognition–is the legal filter for groupings of presented multiples. It is interposed between presentation and representation.” (Badiou)




Janice Lee is a writer, artist, editor, designer, curator, and scholar. Interested especially in the relationships between metaphors of consciousness, theoretical neuroscience, and experimental narrative, her creative work draws upon a wide variety of sources. Her obsessive research patterns lead her to making connections between the realms of technology, consciousness studies, design theory, the paranormal & occult, biological anthropology, psychology, and literary theory. She is the author of two highly acclaimed novels: KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010) and Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011). She also has several chapbooks Red Trees, Fried Chicken Dinner (Parrot/Insert Press, September 2012), and The Other Worlds (Eohippus Labs, June 2012). Her newest project, Damnation, is forthcoming from Penny-Ante Editions in 2013. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is Co-Editor of the online journal [out of nothing], Co-Founder of the interdisciplinary arts organization Strophe, Reviews Editor at HTMLGIANT, and Founder/CEO of POTG Design. She can be found online at http://janicel.com.

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the dictionary project author interview: elizabeth frankie rollins

We are delighted to share with you the dictionary project’s interview with author Elizabeth Frankie Rollins, whose stunning debut collection of short stories The Sin Eater and Other Stories is released this Saturday. A new plague falls on houses, a boy and his dog appear and disappear and reappear, sins are consumed, relished, and released, whole villages made of sand are carved and destroyed, a boy runs and keeps on running, people try to be who they are not and then failing that, try to be who they are. Enjoy these words from Rollins, on life and writing, which, for her, are really one and the same.


photo by Ben Johnson

photo by Ben Johnson



1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:


In my early thirties, I bought a dictionary and a thesaurus for my writing desk, each one big and red.  I told a writer friend of mine that I’d done this and he said, “Uh oh.”  I asked him why he said that but he shrugged and looked out the window.  I changed the subject, mystified.

It used to bother me, that “Uh Oh.” I could hear it every time I reached for one of these big red books.  I mean, what could be wrong with wanting to use better, more accurate language?  I’ve pondered it for years. Still, I have no idea what he could have possibly meant.



2. What is your current favorite word?





3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?


It’s not a word; it’s a phrase.  I loathe the phrase “been there, done that.”  Luckily, it is falling out of use.  It’s such a cruel thing to say.  It speaks of all that is limited and small and unwilling.  What it means to say is that the speaker does not care about you and your story or what you might be saying-it’s an essentially narcissistic, deaf phrase.  It stabs me in the ears.



4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?


Brimming.  Early on in my writing, while I was working on the story where I first understood the writer that I am, I kept seeing a chalice brimming with red wine.  Neither the chalice nor the wine had anything to do with the story.  It was merely an image that told me how perfectly I must fill the story with the sorrow that was at its core. To have it so full.  To have it just so full, almost too much, but not too much.  To have it also be beautiful.



5. When I think of your writing, particularly in The Sin Eater and Other Stories, the word I think of is precision. Not precision in its hard, calculating sense but in terms of its exactitude, its accuracy, its care. I think of what Kung-fu Tze said: that “all wisdom is rooted in learning to call things by the right name.” I wonder if you could speak to your process of wording, of naming.


In my early writings, I wasn’t precise.  I used to build fat rooms of velvety, lyrical prose.  I’d invite people in and they would smoke hashish and drink honey wine and roll around.  One day, though, someone sat up and said, “Wait, this is lovely, but what the hell does it mean?”  And all my texts crumbled.

In terms of process, now, it still doesn’t begin in precision.  I pound the thing out of the world with the bluntest, dullest tools. I am also partially blind and deaf at this phase.  I follow a single strand of golden idea that I have either seen or perhaps only dreamt of seeing.  I crash around the cave walls, moaning and hacking at what I bump into.  I hope, stupidly and optimistically, that something will be there.  This can take days or years, depending on the project.  Eventually, there’s some light.

I make many, many, many drafts.  Each one increases my sight and understanding.  I’ve learned to point myself, and the reader, in.  I mercilessly surgeon the thing as time goes on.  Lines I once loved I snip away and don’t save.  I carve away bone.  I trim.  I rig up to electricity.  I go from Stone Age to modernity every time.



6. Is there a word for which you would like to rewrite the definition? What word? What does it really mean?


Bin. My husband has long become used to the fact that I call any vessel that holds other things a “bin.”  Socks are bins.  Cups are bins.  Purses are bins.  Paper bags are bins.  A cupped hand can be a bin.  As in, “Hand me that bin, will ya?”



7. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:



(en),  n.  1.  in mathematics, the symbol for an indefinite number: see nth.  2.  in physics,, the symbol for neutron.


This is the level to which I have vowed to take the risks of living fully.



flat·ware  (ˈflatˌwe(ə)r),  n.  flat table utensils, as knives, forks, and spoons, or plates, platters, etc.


Any friend of mine will tell you that I want to know what you ate.  I want to know what you had for lunch or dinner.  And I usually remember it.  I ponder it for days.  Why does X eat that?  Why doesn’t Y like that?  I wonder how to cook some of these things.  I store information for future trips to restaurants or grocery stores.  In 2001, a teenager I knew got the house Lo Mein with beef, chicken and shrimp at Oriental Pearl for lunch.  If she didn’t get that, she got the egg salad sandwich at the Bread Board. A phone call to my sister the other night revealed the news that she’d had an antipasto salad and then, cannoli.   I had a boyfriend who loved pepsi and fried fish.  I have a friend who can’t eat any white food.  I have a new friend, who, I’m told, will always order meatballs if they are on any menu.  A friend in NYC has posted several pictures of various plates of sausages and pickles, which she labels: tv snacks.  Another friend ate so many lentils in his crappy flat in Scotland 20 years ago that he still hates them.  My brother-in-law hates stinky cheese.  A friend loves pickled herring.  My nephew loves berries.  It is character.  This is all character study. I study humanity this way, by what it eats with flatware.



rat·toon  (răt`tŌn´),  n. & v.i.  ratoon

rat·oon  (răt`tŌn´),  n.  [Sp. retoño; Hind. ratun], a shoot growing from the root of a plant (especially the sugar cane) that has been cut down.  v.i.  to grow new shoots, or grow as a new shoot, from the root of a plant that has een cut down. also spelled rattoon.


My writing is always concerned with rebirth. Possibility.  It is the most interesting thing about being human.

I love the idea that whenever we tell apocalypse stories, it is about what happens after the apocalypse.  It’s about the ratoon that appears. The possibility of redemption is the most interesting thing in the world.




-gyn·ous  (jin-us), [Mod. L. –gynus. Gr. –gynos  gyne, a woman],  a combining form meaning:  1.  woman, female, as in polygynous2.  having female organs or pistils, as in monogynous, androgynous.


I’m not interested in the limitations of gender.  I’m interested in the possibilities of thinking beyond gender, beyond culture, beyond years, beyond geography. I’m interested in where the real “us” lives.  The us-ness of all humans.  This is why my writing has turned to history. It’s important to me to find what is the same about characters in 1750 and the people I spend my days with.   If I had a spiritual task, it would be to be able to write this truth finally, completely, clearly.



shape  (shāp),  n.  [ME. schap(e):  AS.  (ge)sceap, created thing  <  scieppan, to create, form;  IE. base *(s)qep, etc., to make with a sharp tool, as also in L. capo (cf. CAPON), Eng. Shaft],  1.  the quality of a thing that depends on the relative position of all points composing its outline or external surface; physical or spatial form.  2.  the form characteristic of a particular person or thing.  3.  the contour of the body, exclusive of the face; figure.  4.  assumed or feigned appearance; guise; as, an enemy in the shape of a friend.  5.  an imaginary or spectral form; phantom.  6.  something having a particular shape, used as a mold or basis for shaping or fashioning; form, as for making hats, molding gelatin, etc.  7.  any of the forms, structures, etc. in which a thing may exist or be embodied: as, dangers of every shape.  8.  definite, regular, or suitable form; orderly arrangement: as, his story began to take shape.  9.  [Colloq], condition; state, especially of health: as, the injured man was in bad shape.  v.t.  [SHAPED (shāpt), SHAPED or archaic SHAPEN (-‘n), SHAPING],  1.  to give definite shape to; make, as by cutting or moldng material.  2.  to arrange, fashion, express, or devise in definite form, as a plan, answer, etc.  3.  to adapt or adjust: as, shape your plans to your abilities.  4.  to direct or conduct, as one’s life, the course of events, etc.  5.  [Obs.], to appoint; decree; ordain.  v.i.  1.  [Rare], to become suited; conform.  2.  [Rare], to come about; happen.  3.  [Colloq.], to take shape or form (often with into).  –SYN. see form, make.


I love the shapes of living.  I love the shape of narrative as it plays out in a life.  How a random move, a trip, a lover, a choice will shape the rest of a person’s life.  My characters teach me this, if I didn’t know it from watching my family and friends.

So many people want an obvious, fill-able, prescribed shape to live into, but there isn’t one.

In fact, it is the truth that there isn’t one shape, that an infinity of life/story shapes exist, that makes me want to go on living.




Elizabeth Frankie Rollins’ debut collection of fiction, The Sin Eater & Other Stories, was released February 2013. Rollins has received a New Jersey Prose Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize Special Mention. She authored the chapbook, The Sin Eater, the novels, Origin, and Doctor Porchiat’s Dream, and has published work nationally in Conjunctions, Drunken Boat, Green Mountains Review, and The New England Review, among others. She lives and teaches writing in Tucson.  She brings the sin eater and other redemptive possibilities for modern maladies wherever she goes.



*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: College Edition, copyright 1955

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the dictionary project author interview: anna joy springer

I’m so pleased to share with you all today this author interview with Anna Joy Springer. I find Anna Joy’s work to be immediate, visceral, meditative, guttural, melodic, charged. We are lucky that she doesn’t limit herself in medium of expression.

 AJ promo photo


1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:


When I was very small, I ate every word in the dictionary, slowly. The dictionary had been wheat-pasted to the lower half of the walls of my small attic nursery for insulation. As the pages were so thin, many pages were layered in order to create a barrier from the draft. I was an extremely hungry child, and lonely.  Sometimes my mother, who couldn’t bear the sound of “crying babies” left me in the nursery for longer than she should have. She put bottles of formula in my crib, and, when I was not sleeping curled around a bottle or two, I would play a game of “throw the bottle.” Later I would scale the white dowels of my tiny bed-prison and drop myself the floor to retrieve the bottles, warmed sometimes by sun coming in through the small round window. I would find myself soon on the bare wooden floor with empty bottles all around. Teething, needing something less forgiving than a rubber nipple to chew, I would gum the walls to feel their delicious pressure against my swollen gums, and I would suck on the words there until they were soft enough for me to pull off strips of the dictionary pages and suck and gum them into balls. Then, I would swallow them. I didn’t learn to read this way, but I did learn that words are a kind of nutriment and thing to busy oneself with to keep oneself from dying of boredom and loneliness.

2. What is your current favorite word?

My current favorite word is “oodle.” I say it many times a day and I sing it.  It is what I call my new poodle, Percival. It is satisfying and sensuous and silly all at once.


3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?



4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?



5. I heard you read from your fabulist memoir The Vicious Red Relic, Love, and it was really, in form and content, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. I may be making this up, and forgive me if I am, but I think I remember you saying something about how this was the only way to tell this particular story. Could you talk a little bit of your process in writing the book? And your decision about the form, the container for these stories?


Hmm. I don’t know what I was referring to about this being the only way to make this story, but I do know that I didn’t feel right about “just telling a story” because that wouldn’t be a very dimensional representation of the bigger and smaller pictures touching and affecting each other.  “The story” isn’t a dramatic rendering of events in this piece – it’s more like a collection of evidence about a period, place, and subculture, with a love story as its emotional emblem. The other love stories are like echo lines all around the central one, and they provide a sort of vibe that runs between ancient Sumerian and late 20th c urban
queer punk.  And I guess the thesis, if there is one, is “if we believe ourselves to be something like characters in a story that we’ve heard in different ways a million times, we might consider the interesting possibilities and dangers of creating new ‘liberating’ kinds of stories, even while knowing all stories will somehow reference, reflect, refract, and resist that initial one.”



6. You are a visual artist as well as a writer and you speak of your creations as grotesques. Could you offer your own definition of that word?


Things that both seduce and freak you out and make you feel like your thinking isn’t as big as some other unknown sense that may also be a part of your mind or spirit.



7. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:



Dem·bow·ski (dem bou skē),  n.  a walled plain in the first quadrant of the face of the moon: about 16 miles in diameter.


Dembowski died on the moon and nobody outside of the organization found out.



rhen·i·um  (ˈrēnēəm),  n.  Chem. a rare metallic element of the manganese subgroup: used, because of its high melting point, in platinum-rhenium thermocouples. Symbol: Re; at. no: 75; at wt.: 186.2.  [ < NL, equiv. to L Rhen (us) RHINE + ium –IUM]


Dembowski had discovered rhenium in the first quadrant of what we call “the face” of the moon. Dembowski was going to be very wealthy, very taken care of. We all were.



plas·ter (ˈplastər), n.  1.  a composition, as of lime or gypsum, sand, water, and sometimes hair, applied in a pasty form to walls, ceilings, etc. and allowed to harden and dry.  2.  powdered gypsum.  3.  see plaster of Paris.  4.  a solid or semisolid preparation for spreading upon cloth or the like and applying to the body for some remedial or other purpose. –v.t.  5.  to cover (walls, ceilings, etc.) with plaster.  6.  to treat with gypsum or plaster of Paris.  7.  to lay flat like a layer of plaster.  8.  to daub or fill with plaster or something similar.  9.  to apply a plaster to (the body, a wound, etc.)  10.  to overspread with something, esp. thickly or excessively: a wall plastered with posters.  [ME, OE  <  ML  plastr(um) plaster (both medical and building senses), aph. Var. of L emplastrum    < Gk emplastron salve, equiv. to em- EM2  + plass(ein) (to) mold, form  + tron  -TRON] –plas·ter·er, n.  –plas·ter·i·ness, n.  plas·ter·y, adj.


Instead, we were instructed to plaster over the face of the moon. In essence, to create a new face indistinguishable from the last. This plastering would render the rhenium undetectable, and we would be able to return to the site after our mission, when the organization was down for holiday break.  We knew this plan was infeasible, but we couldn’t disobey command, not with the example that’d been made of Dembowski. We pushed Dembowski into the dust and plastered over that too. When we finished, we
felt destroyed.



Ka·ma·su·tra  (kä′mə so̵̅o̅trə), n.  an ancient Hindu text on mystical erotics.


On our return, we didn’t speak except necessary commands and professional responses. Some secrets are powerful and should remain unuttered. One of mine was that I had removed a small book from Dembowski’s leg pocket before the plastering. It was a Kama Sutra, printed in Sanskrit. He had carried it out on his quadrant sweep, and I can’t imagine why. He may have planned to leave the book there in the great hole now known as “Dembowski,” in order to pretend, on a later mission, to have “found evidence” of earliest cultures’ space travel. He might have imagined presenting this quadrant as the former location of a university of lunar sensuality and erotic moon worship. But his plan was unsuccessful. The greatest anthropological and religious scam of the century, at least, was averted when Dembowski broke his neck.


mil·le·fi·o·ri  (miləfēˈôrē),  n.  decorative glass made by fusing multicolored glass canes together, cutting them crosswise, joining them into new groups, embedding the groups in transparent glass, and blowing the resultant mass into a desired shape. Also, mil·le·fi·o·re.  [  < It equiv. to mille thousand ( < L)  + fiore, pl. of fiore  <  L  flori- (s. of flos) FLOWER]


He had tripped over something hidden beneath the moondust. The organization kept it. It was an oblong millefiori bead. No one ever confirmed whether it was ancient or modern. No one outside the organization knows about the bead except for the buyer, my mother. She wears it, dangerously, on a leather thong around her wrist. She still refuses to tell me the results of the tests she’s had done on the bead. She’s mocked me with farfetched millefiori origin stories for years, a new one every time I’ve asked. I have my own fun, too. I have put Dembowski’s volume of the Kama Sutra in Sanskrit under her bed. I would like very much to inherit the bead. I will hold it in my mouth wherever I go.



Anna Joy Springer is the author of The Vicious Red Relic, Love (Jaded Ibis, 2011), a fabulist memoir with soundscape and images. She’s now making a book-length rebus called Thieves With Tiny Eyes.  An Associate Professor of Literature at UC San Diego and the director of its MFA Program in Writing, she teaches experimental writing, feminist literature & graphic texts. She’s played in punk bands Blatz, The Gr’ups, and Cypher in the Snow and toured with the all-woman spoken word troupe Sister Spit.



*Definitions taken from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, copyright 1989


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the dictionary project author interview: thomas page mcbee

Today, we feature an author interview with Thomas Page McBee. I first became familiar with Thomas’s work through this piece on Salon.com and his ongoing column on The Rumpus, and I was struck by the smartness and poignancy of his writing. I appreciate the way he observes people and incidents, keenly and from all angles, like turning a glass object around in your hand. Enjoy his words.




1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:

I do a lot of fact checking for my day job, which sounds dry but is actually a beautiful thing. I find I don’t know what I think I know (how to spell “Robert De Niro,” for instance). I have to adopt a position of healthy skepticism, which is different than doubt. It’s a curiosity. So, that’s a metaphor. Though I no longer work with a paper dictionary, my life is rich with reference material: online dictionaries that contradict my spell-check chief among them. I’m always reading definitions, figuring out how words work. I love the logic behind AP Style, grammar as architecture, the construction of language. Metaphors everywhere! I traffic in them.


2. What is your current favorite word?

I’ve been drawn to muscular words like hamstrung lately. I like the combination of jargon, a powerful image, and the right kind of sound in the mouth.


3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?

Ugh. Moist. It’s effective; just too effective.


4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?

Vulnerability. Though now I think I’m moving into a different space. Instead of looking at the phrase “Be Vulnerable” before I write, I’m visualizing “Have heart.” For me, there are a lot more dimensions in the latter, and it’s a key shift. With vulnerability, courage can be a byproduct, but with heart, courage — in all of its forms — is the actual engine. I see my relationship to this imaginary reader like I would anyone: sometimes there’s room for all of me, but usually you’re getting a slice. And that’s connection, that offering. It feels more real to me than just full-blown exposure, then asking to be understood. I’m not asking any more, I’m making a dynamic and welcoming you in.


5. For The Rumpus, you write a column—or essays in installments—entitled Self-Made Man? If you were to write a dictionary entry for “self-made,” what would it say?

To construct, with awareness and authenticity, a meaningful sense of self; an imprecise, endless fashioning.


6. In a recent essay of yours: “Self-Made Man: In Real Life,” you talk about the intersection of public vs. private and visibility vs. invisibility, particularly having to do with other people’s expectations and perceptions of you. I particularly loved this: “I think that we need to quit feeling obligated to trumpet our multitudes at the start of every interaction.” I’m wondering if you could speak a little to these concepts of (in)visibility and public/private life in terms of language and particular words. How can language serve to make us visible or invisible? Or, when does language fail us in our interactions with one another?

I think a lot about public and private space; what we reveal and what we hide and why. I think about it more now that I’ve experienced a gender transition, which just highlights for me all the ways I pass. It makes me question what passing even means; the negative implication is around being something we’re not, but I think it’s about being interpreted through one lens. I used to want to eliminate reductionism of that sort, but now I’m moved into a sense of it as not only a necessary way to maintain privacy and boundaries, but an opportunity to learn more about who I am through the ways I’m visible and invisible, the echolocation of what I put out there in all my shifting.

I think a lot about invisibility, about accepting what it has to offer. I think about the way identity is created and curated on the Internet in fragments; how self-conscious it is. And I think that’s a neutral quality, self-consciousness, where I used to feel otherwise. I’m just interested in what it is to be human, and I think narrative is a way to create a visibility that holds even in moments of invisibility: by which I mean, I think understanding oneself is to understand others, and that’s what allows us to not fail each other — in language or otherwise.

Also, it’s okay that we fail each other.


7. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:


bar·rel  (ˈbarəl),  n.  [ME. barel; OFr. baril; ?  <  LL. barra, a stave, bar; see BAR, n.],  1.  a large, wooden, cylindrical container with sides that bulge outweard and flat ends, made usually of staves bound together with hoops.  2.  the capacity or contents of a standard barrel (in the United States, usually 31 1/2 gallons; in Great Britain, 36 imperial gallons; in dry measure, various amounts, as 196 pounds of flour, 200 pounds of pork or fish, etc.): abbreviated bbl., bl., bar.  3.  a revolving cylinder, wound with a  chain or rope: as, the barrel of a windlass.  4.  any hollow or solid cylinder: as, the barrel of a fountain pen.  5.  the straight tube of a gun, which directs the projectile.  6.  the quill of a father.  7.  the body of a horse, cow, etc.  8.  [Colloq.], a great amount: as, a barrel of fun


It’s interesting to think that that which contains is also a system of measure. And, of course, how we have pushed that measurement into the soft space of the immeasurable: a barrel of laughs, for instance. I’m interested in measurement, in containment. I guess I haven’t been thinking enough about barrels.



gang·li  (gang’gli), ganglio—

[gang·li-o— (gang’gliə),  a combining verb meaning ganglion, as in ganglioplexus

gang·li-on (gaNGglēən), n.  [pl. GANGLIA (ə), GANGLIONS (-ənz)], [LL.  <  Gr. ganglion, tumor],  1.  a mass of nerve cells serving as a center from which nerve impulses are transmitted.  2.  a center of force, energy, activity, etc. 3.  a small tumor growing on a tendon.]


I have thought a lot about neurobiology, especially mirror neurons. I’m not sure how connected this concept is to ganglions but since I’m not a scientist, I choose to not worry about that. Mirror neurons seem to me a biological imperative for empathy. They act when seeing another animal performing a similar action: you flinch when someone else gets hit by a ball. We all learn so much through reaction. There’s a baby that lives upstairs, a toddler now, and she went through a whole period where she behaved exactly like her dog: barking at strangers in a soft woof. We are each other more than we know.




tab (tab)  n.  [earlier also tabb  <  Eng. Dial.; in some senses contr. Of tablet; in others, associated or merged with tag],  1.  a small, flat loop or strap fastened to something for pulling it, hanging it up, etc.  2.  a small, usually ornamental, flap or piece fastened to the edge or surface of something, as a dress, coat, etc.  3.  an attached or projecting piece of a card or paper, useful in filing.  4.  [Colloq.] a record; reckoning.  5.  in aeronautics, a small auxiliary airfoil set into the trailing edge of an aileron, etc.


It’s interesting that human technology goes so far beyond our modern digital definitions. To think, the person who first created a tab. I always imagine buttonholes: what it would feel like to put your coat on for the first time with such ease. Revolutionary actions need not be large, just profound. I try to remember that.



fa·çade  (/fəˈsäd),  n.  [Fr.; It. facciata  faccia; LL. facia; see FACE]  1.  the front of a building; part of a building facing a courtyard, etc; hence, 2.  the front part of anything: often used figuratively, with implications of an imposing appearance concealing something inferior.


Thinking about if it’s possible to have a façade that doesn’t “conceal something inferior.” Inferior! I mean a façade of calm, of strength, of ease doesn’t necessarily conceal an inferiority, just a complexity that isn’t public. It’s interesting to think of all the ways we attach value, even in areas of supposed neutrality (the dictionary, straight journalism, you know, language). To think that there’s an authoritative source for anything feels very dangerous to me. My own narrative is multiple, how can I ever believe that the world is anything but a prism of perspective, blended?



hy·pog·na·thous  (ˈhī¦pägnəthəs),  adj.  [hypo  gnathous], having a protruding lower jaw.


I’m not sure I understand if this word applies to humans or only insects, but I do know that having a pronounced jaw was my dream for a long time, and now it’s a reality. Like I said, I believe in the profound, however small the container.



*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, copyright 1955.



Thomas Page McBee pens a column about masculinity, “Self-Made Man,” for The Rumpus. Find his work in the New York Times, TheAtlantic.com, Salon, the San Francisco Weekly, and the Boston Phoenix, where he is an editor. His manuscript, THIS FRAGILE FORTRESS, about crime, forgiveness, and what makes a man, won the Mary Tanenbaum Nonfiction award from the San Francisco Foundation and was a finalist for the Bakeless Literary prize. He’s spoken about his work at colleges across the country. To learn more, visit thomaspagemcbee.com or follow him on Twitter, @thomaspagemcbee.


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the dictionary project author interview: elizabeth crane

Today, the dictionary project hosts an author interview with fiction writer Elizabeth Crane. Enjoy!



1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:

When I was in junior high school, my favorite class was Vocabulary. This is not necessarily reflected in, you know, my vocabulary, nevertheless, my best friend and I thought this was the greatest class ever, because we’d learn new words and then have to use them in sentences and paragraphs and I always loved making the silliest possible sentences. “The bombastic misanthrope could not stop talking about the frowzy conquistador’s inability to show up in a decent shirt.” Also, same best friend and I subsequently created our own dictionary called The Betsy Bugs the Bees and Nina the Nerd Random House Dictionary. We each had a copy, and we filled it with slang, words we just liked, and words we made up, like “Feduchee.” We even had Feduchee t-shirts at one point. So, we weren’t in the popular group, but amazingly we weren’t total outcasts either.


2. What is your current favorite word?
I have to choose one??? Jibber jabber. But you have to say it in a 1940s noir movie voice.


3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?

Oh man, so many! Some I’d rather not even say. But lately one I don’t like is ‘ugly.’ I don’t like the sound of it and I don’t like the judgment in the meaning.


4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?

I’m having a hard time deciding between “Well,” “Anyway” and “So.” I can always get a sentence started with one of those, even if they don’t stay there for the duration. When I was a kid I thought ‘indubitably’ was the greatest-sounding word ever. It still kind of holds up, though it sounds too fake-Britishy coming out of me.


5. Your debut novel We Only Know So Much just came out this year. Were there particular words that you found yourself using often as you wrote?

Some of the characters have a few things that they say regularly: Vivian, the grandmother, likes to follow almost everything she says with “You see.” Gordon likes any three-syllable word, and Priscilla is fond of ‘seriously.’ Otis is obsessed with three jelly beans that his love gave him, and so I repeated the word jelly beans or jelly bellies numerous times, and these words are very pleasant to me. But sometimes I do global searches on certain words that keep coming up so that I don’t sound like a broken record. “Just” is one that just keeps coming up, and just needs to be dialed back.


6. If you had to write your own dictionary entry for the word “story,” what would it say?

Tough one! Story: v. to make something true out of something not true (this makes sense in my head)


7. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:


lip (lip), n. [ME. lippe; AS. Lippa; akin to G. lippe ( < LG.) ; IE. base *leb-, prob., what is licked (var. of *lab-, *lebh-, etc., to lick with gusto), prob seen also in L. labium (cf. LABIAL)], 1. either of the two fleshy folds, normally pink or reddish in color, forming the edges of the mouth and important in speech. 2. anything like a lip; specifically, a) the edge of a wound. b) the projecting rim of a pitcher, cup, etc. c) the mouthpiece of a wind instrument. d) the cutting edge of any of certain tools. e) in anatomy, a labium. f) in botany, a labellum. 3. [Slang], impertinent or insolent talk. 4. The position of the lips in playing a wind instrument. v.t. [LIPPED (lipt), LIPPING], 1. to touch with the lips; specifically, a) to kiss. b) to place the lips in the proper position for playing (a wind instrument). 2. in golf, to hit the ball just to the edge of (the cup). adj. 1. merely spoken or superficial; not genuine, sincere, or heartfelt: as, lip service. 2. Formed with a lip or the lips: labial: as, a lip, consonant.


I like definition #3 the best. It makes me think of the Bowery Boys. “Don’t gimme any lip!”



braid (ˈbrād) v.t. [ME. breiden, braiden; AS. Bregdan, to move quickly, jerk, pull, twist, see UPBRAID], 1. to interweave three or more strands of (hair, straw, etc.). 2. to tie up (the hair) in a ribbon or band. 3. to trim or bind with braid. n. 1. a band or strip formed by braiding. 2. a strip of braided hair. 3. a woven band of cloth, tape, ribbon, etc., used to bind or decorate clothing. 4. a ribbon or band for tying up the hair.


I always wish I could wear my hair in one long braid, but because it’s so thick, it gets kind of fat and tends to look like a challah.



sum·mon (ˈsum-ən), v.t. [ME. somonen; OFr. somondre, semondre; L. summonere, to remind privily < sub-, under, secretly + monere, to advise, warn], 1. to call together; order to meet or convene. 2. to order to come or appear; call or send for with authority. 3. to issue a legal summons against. 4. to call upon to act, especially to surrender. 5. to call forth; rouse, gather; collect (often with up): as, summon (up) your strength. —SYN. see call.


This is kind of an awesome word I don’t think about much. But I like the way it sort of speaks to possibility, like we can get whatever it is that we need by just calling it forth.



pro·thon·o·tar·y (prō-ˈthä-nə-ˌter-ē), n. [pl. PROTHONTARIES (-iz)], [ML. protonotarius; LGr. pronotarios < Gr. protos, first + L. notarius: see NOTARY], 1. a chief notary or clerk. 2. in the Roman Catholic Church, one of the seven members of the College of Prothonotaries Apostolic, who record important pontifical events: sometimes held as an honorary title by other ecclesiastics. Also protonotary.


I don’t think I’ve ever heard this word! But suddenly I want to call on the Roman Catholic Church next time I need a document notarized.



dy·ing (ˈdī-iNG), present participle of die. adj. 1. at the point of death; about to die. 2. Drawing to a close; about to end: as, a dying social order. 3. Of or connected with death or dying. n. the act or process of ceasing to live or exist.


What we’re all doing all the time. Sigh.


Elizabeth Crane is the author of the novel We Only Know So Much, and three collections of short stories, When the Messenger is Hot, All this Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her work has also been featured in numerous publications and anthologies. She is a recipient of the Chicago Public Library 21st Century Award, and her work has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts and adapted for the stage by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater company. She teaches in the UCR-Palm Desert low-residency MFA program.


*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, copyright 1955.

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the dictionary project author interview: ander monson

Today, we feature an interview with Ander Monson, author in all genres and known innovator in the world of nonfiction. I think what I appreciate most about Ander’s work is how he brings to the forefront the unexpected and neglected musings that are often relegated to the sidebar, the footnotes, the parentheses. These ideas are investigated, interrogated, violently disassembled and put back together again in surprising, compelling, and sometimes confounding ways.  As he once told me, the essayist’s job is to show the inner workings of the writer’s brain on the page. Enjoy these synapses, these nerve endings.



1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:

I’ve collected old dictionaries for years, starting mostly when I lived in Alabama, and happened on a whole pile of them at Alabama’s Thrift Store, now named, instead, America’s Thrift Store. I’d buy them all. I must have had forty. They were all well outdated. I wondered what worth there was in an outdated dictionary. But they had the most lovely images: etchings, woodcuts, weird handmade diagrams of things. I got excited. I kept them for four years, acquiring more, but had to discard most of them when my wife and I moved to Michigan. They weigh a ton. They take up too much space. But first I pillaged them. Now I restrict myself only to specialist dictionaries (medical dictionaries, photography dictionaries, tool-and-die dictionaries, mathematics dictionaries, etc.) and to my OED condensed, 1971, in micro-script. It comes with a magnifying glass.

2. What is your current favorite word?


3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?



4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?

I almost never think of words as muses. To me they’re tools—sometimes worlds.


5. Could you talk a little bit about the interaction of words and space in your work? 

Well, that’s a big question. I’ll narrow it down a bit. The piece I wrote for this, Dear Sepulcher, is part of this book project I’m finishing up this fall in which I write short, associative, compressed essays in response to things happened on in libraries: five words (in this case), a passage from a book, a striking image, an snatch of overheard conversation, a human hair, a punch card, homophobic marginalia, a packet of seeds, a due date stamp, just to name a few. Once written, they are originally published back into the book in the library in which I found the originating thing. So they’re words written in response to words I found in any one of a series of particular spaces (libraries, loosely defined), and published back into that space as a communication to a future reader. In this way I’ve been thinking of the library as a medium, a meeting space for brains to find each other. I’m also collecting these short essays as 6×9 cards, unbound, unordered in a box. So in their production I’m thinking about space and language, image and design (as I often do in my work). How language can be a tool of design—or design a tool of language. Either can serve the other, but they work best when they can have a conversation.


6. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:


se·pul·cher  (ˈse-pəl-kər),  n.  [ME. & OFr. sepulcre; L. spulcrum < sepelire, to bury],  1.  a vault for burial; grave; tomb.  2.  a place for the safekeeping of relics, as in an altar.  v.t.  to place in a sepulcher; bury.


Al·a·bam·i·an  (ˌæləˈbæmɪən), adj.  of Alabama.  n.  a native or inhabitant of Alabama.


ken·nel  (/ˈkenl),  n.  [ME. kenel, keneil;  OFr.  *kenil; LL. canile < L. canis, a dog],  1.  a doghouse  2.  often pl. a place where dogs are bred or kept.  3.  a pack of dogs  v.t.  [KENNELED or KENNELLED (‘ld), KENNELING or KENNELLING], to place or keep in a kennel.  v.ito live or take shelter in a kennel.


Pa·pe·e·te  (pəˈpētē), n.  a seaport on Tahitia: capital of the Society Islands and French Oceania: pop., 8500.


re·ta·li·ate  (riˈtalēˌāt),  v.i[RETALIATED (-id) RETALIATING], [<L. retaliatus, pp. of retaliare, to require, retaliate < re-, back + talio, punishment in kind < talis, such}, to return like for like; especially to return evil for evil; pay back injury for injury: as, if he is hurt, he will retailiate.  v.t.  to return an injury, wrong, etc. for (an injury, wrong, etc. given); requite in kind.







*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, copyright 1955.



Ander Monson is the author of a host of paraphernalia including a decoder wheel, several chapbooks and limited edition letterpress collaborations, a website, and five books, most recently The Available World (poetry, Sarabande, 2010) and Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir (nonfiction, Graywolf, 2010). He lives and teaches in Tucson, Arizona, where he edits the magazine DIAGRAM  and the New Michigan Press.

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the dictionary project author interview: andrea scher


On this fourth Wednesday of September, the dictionary project is pleased to host the musings of the inspired and inspiring Andrea Scher. I first became aware of Andrea’s creative work–among her many creative gifts, she is an amazing photographer and thoughtful writer–through her blog Superhero Journal, which has recently been transformed into the gorgeous Superhero Life. Her work is honest, compassionate, and rooted in inquiry into the big life questions we all face. Through her creativity, Andrea invites others to embrace their own artist selves. Enjoy!


by Andrea Scher


1.  Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:

In college, after a long game of Balderdash over many glasses of red wine, my friends and I started asking the dictionary questions and randomly pointing to words in response.

“What should be the name of my first born child?” Drivel.

“What is the meaning of life?” Nothing.

And then, we started to get creeped out. As we passed the dictionary around, we started getting more and more accurate responses. My friend Laura, the most woo-woo in the room, asked, “Who is sending us these messages?” She got the word, magpie.

We thought this was charming, a little bird whispering in our ear. We later discovered that in Native American folklore, the magpie is the messenger between the two worlds…. I have been asking the dictionary big questions ever since.


2. What is your current favorite word?



3. What, in your opinion, is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?

When people add the suffix “gasm” to other, otherwise totally harmless words.



4. What word has been your muse?




5. What word feels like coming home?


I love Yiddish words in general, but this one feels like home. I heard it for the first time in my twenties when my first-ever Jewish friend told me, “Don’t forget your schmatta!” (little sweater) Every time I hear that word or say it myself I feel like I belong to something bigger. Something bigger than religion or culture, a kind of belonging that is everyday and homespun.



6. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:


Sze·chwan  (ˈsech-ˌwän; Chin. ˈsooch-ˌwän),  n.  a province of central China: area, 156,675 sq. mi.; pop., 47,108,000 (est. 1947); capital, Chengtu; chief city, Chungking.


We are Jewish and therefore spent a lot of time at Chinese restaurants on Christmas. My parents ordered the same thing every time—cashew chicken, spring rolls (extra crisp) and Mongolian beef. For many years, I didn’t know there were any other dishes. Or menus at Chinese restaurants.



da·do  (ˈdādō),  n.  [pl. DADOES (-dōz)], [It., a die, die-shaped part of pedestal, hence pedestal < L. datum, a die, lit., what is given; see DATE],  1.  part of a pedestal between the cap and the base.  2.  the lower part of the wall of a room if decorated differently from the upper part, as with panels or an ornamental order.


Dado is what my boys sometimes call my husband. Dada. Dado.



cro·chet  (krō-ˈshā),  n.  [Fr., small hook; see CROTCHET],  a kind of knitting done with one hooked needle.  v.t. & v.i.  [CROCHETED (-shād’), CROCHETING], to knit with such a  needle.


When I was about ten I became obsessed with crocheting granny squares. Trouble is I never figured out how to weave them together into a blanket, so I had just had an ever-growing collection of squares accumulating in the closet.

This is when You Tube how–to videos would have come in handy.



ground (ground),  n.  [ME. grounde, grund; AS. Grund, sea bottom, etc. (cf. GROUND SWELL); akin to G. grund; ? IE> *ghren-to, what is touched in passing over < base *gren-, to rub against, etc.; cf. GRIND],  1.  a)  originally, the lowest part, base, or bottom of anything. b)  the bottom of the sea.  2.  the solid surface of the earth.  3.  the soil of the earth; earth; land: as, he tills the ground.  4.  any particular piece of land; especially, one set aside for a specified purpose: as, a hunting ground.  5.  any particular area of reference, discussion, work, etc.; topic; subject: as, let us go over the ground again.  6.  the distance to a goal, objective, position, etc.  7.  basis; foundation; groundwork.  8.  often pl. the logical basis of a conclusion, action, etc.; valid reason, motive, or cause.  9.  the background or surface over which other parts are spread or laid, as the main surface of a painting.  10.  in electricity, the connection of an electrical conductor with the ground: abbreviated grd.  See also grounds.  adj.  1.  of, on, or near the ground.  2.  to cause (a ship, etc.) to run aground.  3.  to found on a firm basis; establish.  4.  to base (a claim, argument, etc.) on: as, ground your claims on fact.  5.  to instruct (a person) in the elements or first principles of.  6.  to provide with a background.  7.  in aviation, to cause to remain on the ground; keep from flying: as, the plane was grounded by bad weather.  8.  in electricity, to connect (an electrical conductor) with the ground, which becomes part of the circuit.  v.i.  1.  to strike or fall to the ground.  2.  to strike the bottom or run ashore: said of a ship.  3.  in baseball, to be put out on a grounder (usually with out).


I want to be grounded. I want people to say, “She’s so grounded. I just love being with her.” Instead I am more inclined toward anxious. High strung. Vigilant. I rush to yoga. I shuttle my kids along the sidewalk quickly, for no good reason. I have to remind myself to slow down.

I get panic attacks. They crop up mysteriously at times– looking at Google maps, changing a diaper – then, post-attack, I am in for another week of anxiety. Always trying to catch my breath, afraid I’m not getting enough air. Various shades of these symptoms have plagued me for most of my adult life.

But I want to be grounded. Actually no, as I write this, I see that it’s not even grounded that I’m after. It’s light. It’s light-hearted. It’s caring a bit less. It’s trusting a bit more. It’s holding it all more lightly.



sal·ta·tion  (sal-ˈtā-shən, sȯl-),  n.  [L. saltatio, a dancing, dance < saltatus, pp. of saltare, to leap],  1.  a leaping, jumping, or dancing.  2.  sudden change, movement, or development, as if by leaping.  3.  palpitation or throbbing, as of an artery.  4.  in biology, mutation.


I have an enormous collection of jumping photos. Somehow, having my subject suspended in mid-air always has a certain magical quality — an air of celebration, of appreciating life, and aliveness. These are things that can feel hard to attain sometimes, but I am always reaching for them. These photos help.


Andrea Scher, photo by Jen Downer



Andrea Scher is an artist, photographer, and life coach. Through her award-winning blog Superhero Journal and e-courses, Mondo Beyondo, Superhero Photo and Cultivating Courage, Andrea will inspire you to find your passions, dream big and say YES to the life you’ve always wanted.

Andrea is also a supermom (no capes, just courage) to two adorable boys named Ben and Nico. She is the co-author of a wonderful book called Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters Guide to Shooting from the Heart.

*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, copyright 1955.


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the dictionary project author interview: margaret kimball



This week, I’m so pleased to share with you an interview with author/illustrator extraordinaire Margaret Kimball. Margi’s work reflects her quick mind, her quick wit, and the ease with which she navigates/blurs/confronts the (often artificial) boundaries of written language and visual image. Enjoy!


1.   Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:



2.   What is your current favorite word?


3. What, in your opinion, is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?



4. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively and randomly for you:

padded cell, a cell, or room, lined with heavy, soft material for the confinement of violently deranged patients or prisoners.



bar·rier  (barēər)  n.  [ME. barrere;  OFr. barriere  <  barre; see BAR, n. 1.  originally, a fortress, stockade, etc. for defending an entrance or gate.  2.  a thing that prevents going ahead or approaching; obstruction, as a fence, wall, etc.  3.  anything that holds apart or separates: as, shyness was a barrier between them.  4.  a boundary or limitation.  5.  a customs gate on a country’s border.  6.  [sometimes B-], the part of the south solar ice sheet that extends into the sea.—SYN.  see obstacle.



pal·i·node  (pa-lə-ˌnōd),  n.  [MFR. palinod; LL. palinodia; Gr. palinoidia  <  palin, again  + oide, song: see ODE],  1.  an ode or poem written to retract something said in a previous poem; hence,  2.  a retraction.



United Nations,  an international organization formed January 2, 1942, by the nations opposed to the fascist coalition of Germany, Japan, Italy, and their satellites. The 26 nations that met to form the organization were: the United States, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China, Australia, Belgium, Canda, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, the Union of South Africa, and Yugoslavia; as original members joining the preceding nations in 1945 were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, the Byelorussian S.S.R., Chile, Columbia, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the Ukrainian S.S.R., Uruguay, and Venezuela; by 1950, additional nations that had become members were Afghanistan, Burma, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Thailand, Sweden, and Yemen. The members were organized to promote world peace and security under a permanent charter at San Francisco in May and June, 1945, and since 1946 have had their headquarters in New York City: abbreviated UN, U.N.



cer·ti·fy  (sər-tə-ˌfī),  v.t. [CERTIFIED (-fid’), CERTIFYING], [ME. certifien; OFr. certifier; ML. certificare; see CERTIFICATE]  1.  to declare (a thing) true, accurate, certain, etc. by formal statement, often in writing; verify; attest; hence,  2.  to declare officially insane; send to an asylum or similar institution.  3.  to guarantee the quality or worth of; vouch for; as, the bank must certify your check.  4.  [Archaic], to assure; make certain.  v.i.   to testify (to).  –SYN.  see approve.




*these definitions were bibliomanced from Webster’s New World Edition: College Edition, copyright 1955.


Margaret Kimball lives and teaches in Boston, Massachusetts. She was a resident at Yaddo this summer and her work has recently appeared in Defunct, DIAGRAM and Copper Nickel. She’s currently figuring out how to spend next summer living in a tree house in Central America.


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