Tag Archives: the dictionary project


Film still from Amelie

Today, the dictionary project is pleased to share with you the winning entry from the first write this word contest.  Here is “Carried Forward” by Kristina Roth, inspired by the word ripple!
rip·ple  (ˈripəl),  v.t.  [RIPPLED  (-id), RIPPLING], [Early Mod. Eng.; orig. of stormy, dangerous water; hence prob.  <  rip, v.  -le,  freq. suffix],  1.  to form of have little waves or undulating movements on the surface, as water or grass stirred by a breeze.  2.  to flow with such waves or movements on the surface.  3.  a)  to make a sound like that of rippling water.  b)  to proceed with an effect like that of rippling water: said of sound.  v.t.  1.  to cause to ripple.  2.  to give a wavy or undulating form or appearance to. n.  1.  a small wave or undulation, as on the surface of water.  2.  a movement, appearance, or formation resembling or suggesting this. 3.  a sound like that of rippling water.  4.  a small rapid.  SYN. see wave.

Carried Forward

That summer, I attend aqua aerobics classes with a handful of elderly women, where I can float and swim with no crowds. Their soft, saggy upper arms wiggle as we raise plastic dumbbells overhead. I find childlike delight in the water. I wonder if you feel as buoyant in your amniotic fluid as I do in the pool.  Sometimes I have to stop moving and stand still because the intermittent waves of morning sickness don’t combine well with the splashes and slaps of the water as we bounce up and down with our foam noodles.

My doctors are ultrasound crazy.  I see you on the screen many times and imagine waves of sound moving around your body.  At thirteen weeks, your tiny arms curl and uncurl on the screen, and I see that your vertebrae have unfurled down your spine with precision.

You travel to many places that summer. We circle the continent in our comings and goings, making loops back and forth between Houston and more beautiful places.  Your father and I trace our history and at the same time turn outward to imagine our future, turning to places we’ve already been, and some we haven’t, wondering what travel and life will be like once you arrive.

In New Mexico, I sit on the edge of the hotel bathtub and run mountain-cold water over my dusty feet. The sand from my toes is carried down the tub drain by small ripples. I buy tiny, sweet strawberries at the Santa Fe farmer’s market.  Miniscule seeds speckle their red flesh, beginning in a tight whorl at the tip of each berry and spiraling out into wider rings toward the stem.  On the way to Taos, we stop at a state park.  I stand and watch a small, clear stream running over its rocky bottom while your dad hikes up to a raging waterfall.  He shows me a picture of it later, water pounding in a steady rage over a cliff.

In South Dakota, your dad and I walk deep into the woods behind Pactola Lake, following the course of Rapid Creek.  He finds the biggest slate pieces he can lift and swings them into the moving water.  They crash loudly on the stream’s surface before sinking to the bottom, the impact sending small circular waves toward the banks.  I don’t know why he thinks this is so amusing.  Ferns are unfurling themselves along the forest floor, tips tightly closed as they lean upward and unroll themselves toward the sun.

In Minnesota, I do the dishes when we visit my mom, your grandma.  She’s only 56, but her dementia is moving quickly.  Sometimes she will pick up the dishrag and dip it into and out of the soapy water, drops puddling back into the sink from the soaked rag. We visit the largest farmer’s market I’ve ever seen – stands of vegetables, fruit, flowers, and baked goods march onward in even rows.

In Oregon, we rise early, at low tide, and chase to the shore as I did fourteen years previous.  The waves flatten on the wide beach. Each footstep in the shallow water makes a lovely splish-splash.  I scan the beach for sand dollars, wanting to find them before the flat waves that brought them in carry them back out.  Mesmerizing patterns cover the beach, ripples in the sand replicating the ripples of water that have disappeared. Rivulets begin to run into the tide pools as the morning moves toward noon.

In Pennsylvania, we baptize another godchild.  She is dunked three times into the large metal font, water splashing up and beyond the lip, white towels already piled around the base. Their folds rise and fall along the floor.  In less than a year, it will be your turn for this ancient immersion.

Your limbs move visibly across my stomach as you turn inside.  Some women call their contractions waves.  I suppose they do start slowly and then build in intensity as a wave does, and to me, they are as violent as the waves we saw pounding a rocky shore in Maine, water still pouring out of the clefts as each new wave came in. I wanted to use a tub for at least part of my labor, but medical interventions make that impossible. We watch the undulations of my contractions on the screen, another line below charting the valleys and peaks of your heartbeat.  The two lines are not as synchronized as they should be. I wear a mask, oxygen flowing into my lungs, not for myself but to try to help you. They break my water, thinking it will speed labor. White towels are put out to catch the stream.  A photo shows the doctor grasping you as you emerge, a circle of fluid radiating around your head.

You sleep next to me at home and little pools of milk spread out in circles on the sheets.  You nurse and then rest, nurse and then rest, rhythmically swallowing.  Blue-white milk streams down your chin and onto your neck.

Two weeks old, you relax visibly as the warm water I pour over your scalp trickles down your shoulders.  Eighteen months later, you still want me pour water over you in the tub, protesting with a little grunt when I stop. You are mesmerized by the thin cascades of water running down your skin. You hold your hands under the hose as water sprays in a circle onto the perennials, wiggle your fingers in the dog’s water bowl.  You pick up the bowl and dump it onto the floor into a huge spreading puddle if I don’t catch you in time.

Each month of your life expands my own, rings of experience and memory growing bigger with time, carrying the three of us forward just as the flattened waves in Oregon slide sand dollars out of the ocean depths and onto the level sand, into the wide open.
Kristina Roth is a native of South Dakota but now lives in Houston with her family and dogs. Her work has been published in Platte Valley Review, Blue Line, Relief, and other literary journals. Her artwork and photos have been published in several Somerset magazine titles and online at Shutter Sisters, WhipUp, and forthcoming at South Dakota Magazine online.
Notes on “Carried Forward”: I’ve been processing my son’s arrival and growth and my new identity as a mother for almost two years now. Writing has been crucial in helping me examine these topics.  The word ripple seemed to magically provide a new framework within which to reflect upon my pregnancy and son’s birth.  The idea of ripple gave me a fresh way to define and describe these events.  Having a word limit was also very freeing and refreshing, as it made me focus on key images and events without getting sidetracked. This essay was written during naptimes and came together more quickly than my pieces usually do, probably because these events have been on my mind so much.


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the dictionary project author interview: aisha sabatini sloan


It’s the fourth Wednesday of June and time for another author interview at the dictionary project. Enjoy the wit and words of Aisha Sabatini Sloan!




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

When I went to Lisbon last year, I brought a very pretty, pink pocket dictionary for Portuguese. I never opened it. The only word I managed to remember the entire trip was “obrigada,” which means “thank you very much.” I couldn’t even say “hello.”  I love languages, and normally enjoy learning new words, so I can’t figure out what happened to me to prevent me from even trying. It makes me wonder about what they say, how your brain sort of shuts off to learning new languages after your late twenties. I am determined to overcome  this, though, especially if it means that I have to move overseas, or marry someone for whom English is not their first language.

2. What is your current favorite word?



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

No. Although, this was my first word.


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

L, l  (el),  n.  [pl. L’s, l’s, Ls, ls (elz)],  1.  the twelfth letter of the English alphabet: from the Greek lambda, a borrowing from the Phoenician: see alphabet, table.  2.  the sound of L or l: in English, it is normally a voiced alveolar continuant formed by the tongue apex, IPA [l]; in many words, l  preceding f, k, m, and v is silent (e.g., half, balk, calm, and salve) ; in most varieties of American speech, final and preconsonantal l  (e.g., feel, field) has the cavity friction, and hence the sonority, associated with vowels.  3.  a type or impression for L or l.  4.  a symbol for the twelfth (or the eleventh if J is omitted) in a sequence or group.  adj.  1.  of L of l.  2.  twelfth (or eleventh if J is omitted) in a sequence or group.


“A voiced alveolar continuant formed by the tongue apex.” Lovely. I am having trouble thinking of a word that starts with ‘l’ that I don’t like. Lilt. Languid. Lyrical. Laughter. Lounge. Laura Linney. I think this is the letter that best describes how I’d like to spend the next several months of my life. Months? Years. The rest of my life. Don’t tell me about the word that starts with ‘l’ that means genocide right now I don’t want to hear it. OK, shoot. Lynch. There is no perfect letter.



aye  (ā),  adv.  [ME. ai. ay  <  ON. ei], [Archaic], always; ever.


Aye? Really? This word reminds me of my friend, Radhika, for some reason, who must have been speaking with a Minnesotan accent at some point. Also of pirates, who was I talking about pirates with recently? Paula. She was saying that there were female pirates who captained ships in drag. And then she started talking about scuba diving. She and her sister and some man put on their gear off the coast of, I think it was Venezuela, and just started walking into the ocean. They were up to their knees, their shoulders, then under water. It was bizarre for her because she said it was just like going on a hike. Except that they were swimming into canyons, moving along the contour of the mountains.



(Editor’s Note: For the word knot, I actually landed on the numerical labels for a  diagram for knot pictured below)

KNOTS  1.  figure-of-eight knot; 2.  overhand knot;  3.  thief knot;  4.  half hitch;  5.  stevedore’s knot;  6.  loop knot;  7.  harness hitch;  8.  reef knot;  9.  granny knot;  10.  bowline knot;  11.  bowline on a bight;  12.  bowline with a bight;  13.  prolonge knot;  14.  clove hitch; 15.  round turn and two half hitches  16.  running bowline;  17.  slide knot;  18.  slipknot;  19.  fisherman’s bend;  20.  cat’s paw;  21.  single Blackwall hitch;  22.  double Blackwall hitch;  23.  studding-sail tack bend;  24.  magnus hitch;  25.  sheepshank;  26.  half hitch over pin;  27.  rolling hitch;  28.  studding-sail halyard hitch;  29.  timber hitch;  30.  timber hitch and a half hitch;  31.  surgeon’s knot  32.  anchor knot;  33.  long splice;  34.  surgeon’s knot;  35.  sheet bend;  36.  trefoil knot;  37.  throat seizing.  38.  outside clinch;  39.  inside clinch;  40.  double sheet bend;  41.  Englishman’s tie;  42.  single carrick bend;  43.  double carrick bend;  44.  single bowknot;  45.  double bowknot.


Knots. It’s difficult for me to even think about this word without feeling all of my energy migrate to my stomach and my heart is now definitely beating faster. The only non-negative meaning of this word seems to be an “Englishman’s tie.” I want very badly to undo this word, disempower it somehow, go up to it on the street and loosen it, even it it’s pink, so everybody can breathe better. I am tempted to add a “g” to the beginning, and then to pronounce the “g,” make the word into “ganot” or “ganat” and then just pull the tension loose. I do not like this word at all.



py·ro·lig·ne·ous  (pī-rō-ˈlig-nē-əs),  adj.  [FR. pyroligneux  <  pyro- + L. lignum, wood],  1.  produced by the destructive distillation of wood.  2.  designating or of a reddish-brown liquid (pyroligenous acid), chiefly acetic acid and methyl alcohol, obtained by the destructive distillation of wood.  3.  designating or of methyl alcohol, especially when obtained from wood.


Pyroligneous! I went to get a massage recently, and was told that, I guess in terms of Chinese medicine, my insides were on fire. I have been out of balance, vis-a-vis the five elements. I need to find a way to get more wood to feed the fire and more water to keep it from burning out of control. I say this because pyroligneous is “produced by the destructive distillation of wood.” I don’t like the idea that I’m walking around, creating methyl alcohol just by living and breathing. But it makes a lot of sense, actually. I think it’s part of the reason that I need to leave Tucson.



twig  (twig),  n.  [ME. & AS. twigge; indirectly akin to G. zweig; IE. *dwi-gho  <  base  *dwou-, two (cf. TWO): prob. with reference to the forking of the twig], a small branch or shoot of a tree or shrub.


Twig. I just used this word metaphorically a few days ago, and felt a little uneasy afterward. Now what’s this about, “prob. with reference to the forking of the twig.” Is it just me, or is it kind of cute when a dictionary says “prob”? Do you ever think about the person writing these entries? Are we allowed to see the dictionary as having subjectivity, facial hair, pajamas, even a soul? There is an old man in a room somewhere, thinking about the best way to explain the etymology of the word twig. I have affection for this man. He is so detail oriented: listen to him talk about “a small branch or shoot of a tree or shrub.” Shrub seems like such an outdated form of vegetation. I think that, wherever he is, he wants us to feel curious and optimistic about the ways of the world.






Aisha Sabatini Sloan grew up in an apartment building five miles from the ocean. Because the blue condo at the end of the block with porthole style windows was built around the same time that she was born, she always assumed she was going to be given one of the apartments for free.





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the dictionary project author interview: lorraine berry

It’s the second Wednesday of June so it’s time for a new author interview at  the dictionary project.  In our author interviews,  guest authors discuss their relationship to words and provide answers to dictionary project words bibliomanced specifically for them.

This week, travel with Lorraine Berry into the woods and across the forest floor, over to an Irish Pub, across the ocean to Sienna, Italy, into the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and back again!




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

I’ve had moments of intense love affairs with the English language. When I was younger, I used to read the dictionary and try to memorize new words. As a junior in high school, we were forced, in Honors English, to learn thirty new words a week, and at first, I resented it, but since then, I’ve been so grateful for the practical usage I still get out of those words.

What really lit me on fire about English, however, was taking Latin. I abhorred Latin—the constant charts and tables in order to learn each new word were painful. But what I learned to treasure about Latin was that it made each English word I encountered a puzzle. I found myself wanting to know etymologies. Sometimes, it would be obvious to me because I would recognize the Latin root. But rooting around in the dictionary got me excited about knowing the history of a word: Greek or Latin or Anglo-Saxon? Middle English? Related to what? First used when? All of that word stuff was yummy. It filled up some part of my brain that didn’t know it had been empty.

When I teach, I encourage students to buy themselves the biggest dictionaries they can find, and I especially encourage them to understand where words come from. It’s another way of unlocking the puzzle of our human existence, I think.


2. What is your current favorite word?

I learned a new word just this past weekend. My partner Rob and I were sitting at one of our haunts—one of those faux Irish pubs in a hotel that we like in spite of the décor—because it’s quiet and it has a fireplace. We’ve made a ritual of my bringing essays to grade and him bringing a novel, and we sip Jameson’s as the day slips away.

This past weekend, however, I was between grading spates and had brought a novel of my own to read: Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases, and it happened: in the middle of a passage was a word I didn’t recognize: dysthymic. I guessed at its meaning from the context, and cursed the pub for not having a dictionary. (I suppose I could engage my own romanticized vision of the bard here and wonder why someplace that serves Irish spirits does not serve the Irish spirit and keep a fucking dictionary around.) Rob had technology at his fingertips, however, and looked up the word on his iPhone: dysthymia refers to chronic depression, and Englander had referred to his characters as dysthymics.

Jesus, did it seem appropriate. Sometimes, I think my entire thirties (I’m forty-nine now) were spent as the poster child dysthymic. The day we were having Saturday—cold and blustery and gunmetal gray—felt as if April, which had come in with Apollonian glory, had gotten stuck in some northern latitude doldrums—when you know that it should be spring outside, but honestly, a glance through the window leaves you wondering whether it’s November or March.

So, until this damn weather clears up, I’m going with dysthymic as my current favourite word.


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

Has anyone else noticed that we go through cycles of overused, misused words? At one point in my teaching, students couldn’t get through a paragraph without inserting extraneous “basicallys” to their language. Now the word that makes me twitch is literally.

(I should say that, from a political standpoint, the political language of obfuscation and outright lie telling enrages me. But in sticking with the wording of the question, I’m toning down my response from rage to obnoxiousness.)

I’m not sure why the word “literally” has undergone a figurative blooming. It reminds of the way an invasive species can take down an eco-system. Directly across the road from where I live is a small gorge that, in years past, has been full of my favourite summer wildflower: chicory. Chicory is a shade of blue that, depending on the angle of the sun, may appear purple through gray, but mostly stays a shade a tad lighter than cornflowers.

A couple of years ago, wild parsnip (pastinaca sativa) appeared on the scene. The stalks are tall and the flowers resemble a Queen Anne’s Lace, except they’re baby-shit yellow and spiked out so that the flowers appear to be giant hands.

They are more than an eyesore. They contain a photosensitizing chemical that, should you brush the plant with your hands or body then expose your skin to sunlight, will cause burns and blisters. Removing the plant requires the wearing of a hazmat suit.

Notice I didn’t say “literally wearing a hazmat suit.” I’ve become allergic to the word. It is so insidious in my students’ speech that it causes me to involuntarily pull away, as if contact with the word may leave residue on my skin.


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


dust  (dəst)  n.  [ME.; AS.; akin to ON. dust; IE. base dhus- (<dhewes; see DEER), to fly like dust, dust-colored, etc.; cf. DUN, DUSK],  1.  powdery earth or any powdered matter fine enough to be easily suspended in air.  2.  a cloud of such matter; hense,  3.  confusion; turmoil  4.  earth  5.  mortal remains disintegrated or thought of as disintegrating to earth or dust.  6.  a humble or lowly condition.  7.  anything worthless.  8.  [British], ashes, rubbish, etc.  9.  [Rare], a particle, gold deposits, hence,  12.  [Slang], money.  v.t.  1.  to sprinkle as by brushing, shaking, or wiping (often with off).  v.i.  1.  to remove dust, especially from furniture, floors, etc.  2.  to bathe in dust, said of a bird.  3.  to become dusty

bite the dust, to fall in battle, be defeated.

lick the dust,  1.  to fall in battle; be defeated.  2. to be servile; grovel

  make dust fly,  1. to act energetically.  2.  To move swiftly

shake the dust off of one’s feet, to leave in anger or contempt: Matt. 10:14.

throw dust in (someone’s eyes), to mislead or practice deception on (someone).


I found ashes once.

Human ashes, in a box, that had been washed up from their shallow burial ground by a series of storms. I didn’t open the box; I wanted the body inside to maintain its privacy, but I did make sure that they were reburied properly.

Dust and ashes, it seems to me, are our inevitable form. And while I know ashes are grittier than dust, I imagine myself blown across the universe when I’m dead.



tway·blade  (ˈtwāˌblād),  n.  [archaic tawy, two (ME. twei; see TWAIN; + blade],  1. a variety of orchid with two broad leaves and small, red-veined, yellow flowers.  2.  any of several orchids having two leaves springing from the roots.


I hike in the woods near every day. As far as I know, I’ve never seen twayblade, although I recognize the shape and color. The flower reminds me of Dutchmen’s Breeches, which appear to be a row of pants hanging on a line of washing. A couple of years ago, I encountered a plant that took me days to name. Like twayblade, it had two leaves coming up from the roots, and then two magenta petals with tiny pom-poms on the end of each petal. Its name? Gaywings. Gaywings and twayblades, I think, would make lovely partners on the forest floor.



mark  (mark),  n.  [ME. merke, marke; AS.  mearc, orig., boundary, hence boundary sign, hence sign, etc. (cf. MARCH, boundary); akin to G. mark, boundary, boundary stone, landmark, etc., marke, a token, mark; IE. base *mareg-, seen also in L. margo, an edge, border (cf. MARGIN); basic idea either “extending” or “visible boundary:],  1.  a visible trace or impression on a surface, as a line, dot, spot, stain, scratch, blemish, mar, bruise, dent, etc.; distinctive feature produced by drawing, coloring, stamping, etc.  2.  a sign, symbol, or indication; specially, a) a printed or written sign or stroke: as, punctuation marks. b) a brand, label, seal, or tag put on an article to show the owner, maker, etc.: as trade-mark.  c) a sign or indication of some quality, character, etc.: as, politeness and consideration for others are marks of a good upbringing. d) a letter or figure used in schools, etc. to show quality of work or behavior; grade; rating: as, a mark of B in history. e) a cross or other sign made on a document as a substitute for a signature by a person unable to write.  3.  a standard of quality, proficiency, propriety, etc.: as, this novel doesn’t come up to the mark.  4.  importance; distinction; eminence; as, a man of mark.  5.  impression; influence: as, good teachers leave their mark on their students.  6.  a visible object of known position, serving as a guide or point of reference: as, the tower was a mark for fliers.  7.  a line, dot, notch, etc. used to indicate position, as on a graduated scale.  8.  a) an object aimed at; target. b) an object desired or worked for; end; aim; goal.  9.  an observing; a taking notice; heed.  10.  [Archaic], a) a boundary, border, or borderland; march. b) among Germanic peoples in earlier times, land held or worked in common by a community.  11.  in nautical usage, a) one of the knots, bits of leather, or colored cloth placed at intervals on a sounding line to indicate depths in fathoms. b) the Plimsoll mark.  12.  in sports, a) the starting line of a race. b) the jack in the game of bowls.  v.t.  1.  to put or make a mark or marks on.  2.  to identify or designate by or as by a mark or marks: as, his abilities marked him for success.  3.  to trace, make, or produce by or as by marks; draw, write, etc.  4.  to show or indicate by a mark or marks.  5.  to show plainly; manifest; make clear or perceptible: as, her smile marked her happiness.  6.  to distinguish; set off; characterize: as, great scientific discoveries marked the 19th century.  7.  to observe; note; pay attention to; take notice of; heed: as, mark my words.  8.  to give a grade or grades to; rate: as, the teacher marked the examination papers.  9.  to put price tags on (merchandise).  10.  to keep (score, etc.); record.  v.i.  1.  to make a mark or marks.  2.  to observe; take note.  3.  in games, to keep score.—SYN. see sign.


To mark is to scar. I mark the page with my writing. I mark the earth with my footprint. Life has marked me, left me covered with reminders of growth and grief. I have scars that begin in my scalp and extend to the arch of my foot. If my lover is observant, he’ll note each scar, trace its comma or caret with his breath, his tongue, draw from me its story. I will rise up with each stroke, let him unfold my origami muscles, wail forth my love cry as I launch into flight.



tar·ant·ism  (ˈtarənˌtizəm),  n.  [It., tarantiscmo <  Taranto, Italy: so called because formerly epidemic in the vicinity of Taranto: popularly associated with the tarantula, by whose bite it was said to be caused; cf. TARANTULA, TARENTELLA], a nervous disease characterized by hysteria and a mania for dancing, especially as prevalent in southern Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries; also spelled tarentism.


Siena. 1995. I was on my first overseas research trip, preparing to do an intensive study of Italian and, I hoped, find time to get into the archives and start the initial research for my dissertation.

I had left behind my four-year-old daughter and her father, and as part of my studies, I was living with an elderly, irascible woman who was furious with me for a number of reasons, chief among them being that I didn’t speak any Italian and so wasn’t yet able to communicate with her.

When I had signed up for this particular intensive study, I had requested living with a family. It was what I had done in France in 1984, when, in ten weeks of living with a family with three children, plus attending six hours per day of language instruction, I had returned to the United States completely fluent in French. I had hoped for the same thing in Italy, but it was clear in the first twelve hours after arrival that I had been mismatched with my host family. For one thing, it wasn’t a family. It was just her, and she bullied me. It started when I didn’t finish everything on my dinner plate. She wasn’t the stereotype of the Italian mother who insists to her kids, “eat, eat!” she seemed more like the strega from Hansel and Gretel who wanted me to eat so that she might fatten me up, and eat me, I was convinced.

It didn’t help that I missed my child. I had never spent more than a week separated from her, and as I cried myself to sleep the first of sixty days that I was set to stay, in place of my daughter, I had brought along my old nemesis, panic.

Panic. Which wouldn’t let me sit still. Panic. Which caused me to walk and walk and walk from the outer hilltop where I was staying down into Siena’s ancient walls and to walk and walk without stopping for hours on end. I was afraid that if I sat I would die. If you’ve never suffered from a panic attack, imagine those dreams where you are in the middle of the road, a truck bearing down on you, and you cannot move. Panic, the leavings of our primordial brain, where the fight-of-flight instinct saved us when confronted by saber-toothed tigers and other creatures that wanted to eat us. Panic chased me through the streets of Siena, and kept me walking from dawn until dark.

The old woman would shout at me for having been gone all day, but how to explain to her that I had been bitten by this mania, this hysteria, for which I had no name and no idea how to cure myself of. I was afraid to go to an Italian emergency room for fear that they would lock me away in a psych ward.

And so, one pre-dawn morning, after a sleepless night, I dragged my belongings to a busstop, to the train station, and to the airport at Pisa, where I begged airline officials to let me change my ticket and go home.

I have since returned to Italy, and love it. But I have never forgotten its first bite.


hol·mic (hōlˈmĭk), adj.  of or containing trivalent holmium.

[hol·mi·um (hōl´me-um), n.  a metallic chemical element of the rare-earth group: symbol: Ho; at. wt., 164.94; at. no., 67.]


While it is an adjective that refers to the element holmium, I find that I use such adjectives sparingly in my prose. I once wrote a blog post that compared the reflection that came off sub-zero snow as reminding me of cobalt, I cannot think of a time that I have written something elemental.

But elemental leads me to elementary, and elementary leads me to Holmes. Sherlock Holmes, who, one could argue, has given rise to all manner of Holmic studies.

In high school, I loved chemistry, although I loathed the study of all other sciences. But chemistry was a series of puzzles; it was about balance and about figuring out what happened when you combined two elements to see if, placed together, they might not form something remarkable.

And puzzles. Well, that’s what Holmes solves, right? He begins with a clue and, before you know it, has inferred and deduced, and induced confessions from those he suspects.

So, from now on, perhaps I’ll refer to anything to do with Sherlock Holmes as holmic. Because it’s elemental, my dear Watson.




Lorraine Berry was ABD at Cornell when she finally figured out that she didn’t want to be an historian: she wanted to tell stories. Since quitting, she has worked in a number of places—including going back to waitressing—but currently teaches in the Professional Writing Department at SUNY Cortland. Her work can most often be found in Salon.com or at TalkingWriting.com. She lives with her partner, Rob, and is raising two daughters. Her memoir in manuscript, “Word Lovers,” has been optioned for film. When not writing, Lorraine hikes the woods of the Finger Lakes with her two dogs.



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live from the dictionary project presents! part two!

solar eclipse at Gate’s Pass, Tucson, Lisa O’Neill


Today, we have more readers from the dictionary project presents! event at Casa Libre on April 28, 2012.

Annie Guthrie and Samuel Ace read poems they composed for National Poetry Month (napomo) at The Dictionary Project. Elizabeth Frankie Rollins and Rebecca Iosca read flash fiction pieces composed for flash fiction february.  I read on “conduct.” Julia Gordon reads on “New Yorker” and it is a complete and utter tragedy that the video cut out two minutes before she finished because she brought. the. house. down.



Samuel Ace on “drowsily”:


Elizabeth Frankie Rollins on “schizophrenia”:


Rebecca Iosca on on “schizophrenia”:


Annie Guthrie on “penology”


Lisa O’Neill on “conduct”:


Julia Gordon on “New Yorker”:

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live from the dictionary project presents

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As some of you may know, the dictionary project hosted it’s first live event: the dictionary project presents! at Casa Libre on April 28, 2012.

This week, we’ll be sharing readings from the event. It’s almost like you were there! Or if you were there with us, relive it with us.

(Thanks very much to Casa Libre’s Assistant Director Tc Tolbert for providing the video!)

The first videos are the introduction to the evening as well as the readings that were produced using the word bibliomanced for the event: guava!



gua·va  (ˈgwävə),  n.  [Sp. guayaba  <  native (prob. Arawakan) name in Brazil],  1.  a tropical American tree or shrub bearing a yellowish, pear-shaped, edible fruit.  2.  the fruit, used for jelly, preserves, etc.





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the dictionary project author interview: Arianne Zwartjes


It’s the second Wednesday of the month at the dictionary project, and we have our second non-traditional author interview featuring writer Arianne Zwartjes!

In our author interviews, instead of responding to direct questions about their life or work, guest authors discuss their relationship to words and provide answers to dictionary project words bibliomanced specifically for them.




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

My grandparents gave me my first dictionary, a brown leatherbound edition which I still have, packed as it is in boxes at the moment. My grandmother’s spidery handwriting stretches across the inside of the cover, for Arianne, so much love, etc etc. I was eight, I think, or nine. I still think of them every time I open it, which I do with fair regularity.


2. What is your current favorite word?

Currently my favorite word is eyesoar, a gross misspelling from a recent work email which, it occurs to me, creates gorgeous new meaning and is actually a way better word than the original they were trying to approximate.

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

Like. Anyone who teaches must feel this way, I imagine.


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

os·ten·ta·tion  \ˌäs-tən-ˈtā-shən\  pretentious or excessive display — ostentatious \shəs\ adj  — ostentatiously  adv

ver·so  \ˈvər-sō\  n, pl   versos :  a left-hand page


draughts  \ˈdräf(t)s\  n, Brit  :  CHECKERS


Far East  the countries of  E Asia & the Malay Archipelago — usually thought to consist of the Asian countries bordering on the Pacific but sometimes including also India, Sri Lanka, Bangledesh, Tibet, & Myanmar — Far Eastern adj

film·o·gra·phy  \filˈmägrəfē\  n,  pl  phies  a list of motion pictures featuring the work of a film figure or a particular topic




leavings: a filmography


aisha is the one who should create any list of films. i am the verso, she the main page. this is an ostentation, a play for words, a desperate bid. tom waits agrees; he says i am striving. to lose at draughts, to misplay, to lose the lines on the road. this is the kind of move i have made recently.  when i traveled in the far east which is only far and only east to us, rooted as we are here in our stretching continent of asphalt and wheat and mountains, i learned the past moves in both directions, forward as well as behind us. when words try to pin that down they fail.




the idea of home is suspect. in spike jonze’ film the fall, a horse is winched from the river below a high bridge; it hangs dripping from the sling in a limp arc. a train is frozen on the trestle, a small black and white terrier barks furiously. (home can be person, place, or thing. nouns define us.) this intro is, in my opinion, the best part of the film.




i have been to two films recently which stopped midway through, the screen blurring or blacking out, the sound jelling to a halt. J tells me once when that happened to him, his friend seamlessly began verbalizing the soundtrack as he imagined it, and the whole theatre clapped when the scene was done. films that include separations, departures, homes found or homes lost: a river runs through it. lonesome dove. lawn dogs. once upon a time in anatolia. a la mar.







Arianne Zwartjes is addicted to the NPR show On Being. She is currently living out of a moving van traveling between Arizona and New Mexico. She will soon be living out of a backpack in the Gila wilderness. Lately she has fallen in love with The Brothers K by Robert James Duncan and with everything and anything by Fanny Howe.

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write this word contest



Introducing the dictionary project’s first “write this word” contest!


Writers have from May 1 to June 15, 2012 to write and submit an essay, poem, or fiction piece inspired by the selected dictionary project word.



Entries must be inspired by the write this word contest word. Judges will look for influence of the word as well as for creativity and innovation. The actual word need not be included in the piece.

Entries should be titled.

Entries must be no more than 1,000 words in length.

Only one entry per person.

Writers previously published on the dictionary project may not submit.

Please include in your email a brief author bio and a sentence telling us how you found out about the dictionary project.

Entries must be submitted in the body of an email to thedictionaryproject@gmail.com by 11:59 p.m. on June 15, 2012.



1st Prize:  The write this word contest winner will be awarded $50 and will have hir/his/her piece published on the dictionary project website.


2nd Prize:  The write this word runner-up will be awarded $30 and a pocket dictionary.


3rd Prize:  The write this word third-prize winner will be awarded a year’s subscription to Poets & Writers magazine.





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rip·ple  (ˈripəl),  v.t.  [RIPPLED  (-id), RIPPLING], [Early Mod. Eng.; orig. of stormy, dangerous water; hence prob.  <  rip, v.  -le,  freq. suffix],  1.  to form of have little waves or undulating movements on the surface, as water or grass stirred by a breeze.  2.  to flow with such waves or movements on the surface.  3.  a)  to make a sound like that of rippling water.  b)  to proceed with an effect like that of rippling water: said of sound.  v.t.  1.  to cause to ripple.  2.  to give a wavy or undulating form or appearance to. n.  1.  a small wave or undulation, as on the surface of water.  2.  a movement, appearance, or formation resembling or suggesting this. 3.  a sound like that of rippling water.  4.  a small rapid.  SYN. see wave.


I’ll look forward to seeing how you will write this word!


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the dictionary project presents!
























Our first live event and reading for the dictionary project is tomorrow, April 28, in Tucson at Casa Libre en la Solana. We couldn’t be more excited!

Itinerary for the night includes featured readers published at the dictionary project, interactive on-the-spot bibliomancy, and creative participation from the audience. Featured readers include: Samuel Ace, Lisa Bowden, Julia Gorden, Rebecca Iosca, Drew Krewer, Julie Lauterbach-Colby, Lisa O’Neill, Jenna Orzel, Elizabeth Frankie Rollins, & Aisha Sabatini Sloan. Updates to come post-event!

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fly·ing boat



fly·ing boat, an airplane with a hull that permits it to land on and take off from water: see TYPES OF AIRPLANE, p. 32


For the second time in two weeks and in the history of  the dictionary project, when I closed my eyes and ran my finger through the pages of the dictionary, I landed on an image. This time, the image was of a flying boat, a vessel made for both air and water, from a page covered in illustrations of airplanes. Enjoy Kristen Nelson’s text & image poem for the next installment of na·po·mo.



































































































Kristen E. Nelson is the author of Write, Dad (Unthinkable Creatures Press, 2012). Her recent work can be found in Tarpaulin Sky, Trickhouse, Cranky Literary Journal, In Posse Review, Dinosaur Bees, Everyday Genius, GlitterTongue, and Spiral Orb. She is a founder and the Executive Director of Casa Libre en la Solana; an editor/curator for Trickhouse; a production editor for Tarpaulin Sky Press; and a writing teacher. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.

Photo credit: Sarah Dalby


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as·ta·tine  (ˈastəˌtēn),  n.  [ < Gr. Astatos, ustable; + ine], an unstable chemical element formed from bismuth when it is bombarded by alpha particles; symbol. At; at. wt., 211 (?); at. no., .85 (formerly designated as alabamine).
It’s the second word of na·po·mo at the dictionary project. Enjoy the writing of poet Meagan Lehr!




Meagan Lehr’s work can be found at Arch Literary Journal, and Mary: A Journal of New Writing. She currently teaches writing at The University of Arizona, and is managing editor for The Destroyer, an online publication of art, text, and the public rant. Her book Men in Correspondence is forthcoming from Jackleg Press.

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