I recently had a quick Q&A with fellow blogger Ross Horsley, who manages My First Dictionary (http://myfirstdictionary.blogspot.com), one of the more subversively humorous sites I’ve found on the net in a while. If you like language as much as I do or just enjoy a good laugh (or a self-repressed chuckle), check My First Dictionary out for a your daily dose of wordage!
So, Ross, tell us a little bit about yourself and My First Dictionary.
I work in a library, surrounded all day by reference books, so it’s not a big leap to find me creating something like My First Dictionary. I deal in the written word, after all. People say a picture paints a thousand words, but I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of words in the way we communicate. They’re like the pixels that make up the picture. Look at the internet: it’s all words. Apart from the porn.
You’re probably the funniest librarian I’ve ever met. What it’s like to work at a library, and how does that play into you creating My First Dictionary?
Well, thanks, although I’m not sure what that says about librarians! Working in a library is a strange job. Members of the public come in with all kinds of bizarre requests, and you want to help them without getting sucked too far into the craziness. Many of the people I work with have done completely different jobs in the past, which they’ve left for various reasons. I’m a former academic, for instance, while others I work with were once actors, nurses and teachers – so there’s this sort of air of failure hanging over the place, even though that’s not the case at all! It’s that sense of life never quite living up to your expectations that I think feeds into My First Dictionary.
I really like how wholesome the pictures are…are they really from a “first dictionary”? Because I’m sure I had a flashback from my childhood just looking at them.
Yes, they’re genuine illustrations from an old book. I’m expecting to get sued any day now! The truth is I can’t draw at all, so I have to rely on existing artwork. My plan is to use up all the pictures from this particular book, which seems to be from the 50s, then try and find one from the 70s and do an All-New My First Dictionary!
How do you pick out your words per day? Is there a systematic process like when Noah chose two of each animal, or does it involve random selection like when Jesus chose his disciples?
I’m like Jesus. Although My First Dictionary is about words, it’s quite visual, really, so it’s usually an illustration that sets me off. The pictures I’m currently using are so evocative that just looking at one will give me an idea for what new word it might represent. In other cases, the original word will stay but I’ll twist its meaning a little, usually to make it darker. I wouldn’t say I’m a cynic, though… honestly! I actually think it takes a true optimist to see through to the dark heart of things.
I notice you have two other blogs, one for old print ads and gory Slasher movies— those are very divergent interests. Do you mind telling us about them?
I’ve always been fascinated by horror films. Of all genres, I think horror is the one that places the most demands on you intellectually and emotionally: What would I do in this situation? How would I cope with it? Can I believe what I’m seeing… and can I force myself to look? Horror is all about facing up to your own fears. Some people do this with humour, some people with horror. I think I do both, and that’s where My First Dictionary springs from. Similarly, the relics of the past I blog about are interesting because of what they reveal about the society that created them. Looking at an old underwear ad might tell you more about a given time period than reading a historical study of it – at least on a level you’ll respond to. And, if you find it funny, that means you’ve understood something about the differences. For me, the humour in My First Dictionary comes from applying the logic of one situation to something quite different, to the extent that it becomes entirely inappropriate.
Do you think you will eventually tackle enough words to start your own dictionary? What words do you think you would want to blog about but haven’t found the right context for?
The way I see it, I’ve already started my own dictionary. I’m not running out of ideas yet – or words. The English language seems to have plenty and I’ve only covered about 30 so far. You’re spot-on when you talk about context, though. My First Dictionary is all about context – the idea being that a children’s book is completely the wrong context to address certain themes. In that respect, it’s the exact right context for everything I want to poke fun at!
Thanks so much to Ross and My First Dictionary for the really fun interview! Again, please check out My First Dictionary for a daily update!
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