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DEAR READER: New dictionary sparks memories about words; Jim Terry tops entries in Show Me the Error contest

Friday, February 10, 2012 | 5:27 p.m. CST; updated 8:34 p.m. CST, Monday, February 13, 2012

COLUMBIA — The fifth edition of The American Heritage Dictionary arrived Wednesday, and I've been squirming at my desk for a chance to dig into it. A few cursory flips of the pages have whetted my appetite for a thorough look-see.

As much as the "10,000 new words and senses" the cover blurb promotes, the full-color images whisper to my curiosity — read me, see me, read me.

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The book's arrival sparked a mental walk through the memories of words and the people who inspired my current day "word nerdiness."

It started early for me, as I suspect it did for most copy editors. Dad and I worked crossword puzzles together — one of my most cherished memories. Then came spelling bees and writing assignments and reporting and editing and reading and reading and reading.

And Latin classes.

Mary Rose Wood, a somewhat bohemian teacher in my minuscule high school, infused the translations with meaning by acting out Julius Caesar in all his magnificent power as she guided us through his writing. And, then there were those zany Roman gods and goddesses — a concept that I had been shielded from in earlier education. What a delight. I still favor Prometheus and his grand sacrifice to bring light to the people

Beyond the stories, though, were the words which lend their meanings to so many of our current day American English usages. I've often credited those two years of studying Latin as being the most valuable classes I ever had.

Then there was Dave Scruton, an anthropology professor, who used 50-cent words in every other sentence. I'd scribble them as best as I could spell them phonetically in the margin of my notes, scurry home, grab the dictionary and add them to my repertoire. 

More recently, the synapses about words fired up like a Roman candle when I read a posting on The Vocubula Review about the history of dictionaries written by Verónica Albin, albeit in a somewhat snarky tone. 

Imagine how much pleasure I'm going to have with that when my book club meets next month, when in a departure from our usual book selection, we're going to discuss dictionaries. I'll be there with my new American Heritage in hand. 

Judging by the number of participants in the Show Me the Error contest, I know I'm not alone in my love of words.

In January, there were 19 participants who submitted a total of 61 corrections. Jim Terry, a loyal participant, won the contest not only with the most entries at 29, but he was also the winner of the drawing to determine the prize winner.

He'll be receiving a copy of "The Great Typo Hunt" and a Missourian T-shirt. 

The contest continues, so please join us in correcting errors at ColumbiaMissourian.com. To submit a correction, just click on the box at the bottom of each article and let us know about the error. We certainly appreciate it.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at ColumbiaMissourian.com. Show Me the Errors gained a bit more recognition recently when Craig Silverman, author of "Regret The Error" and originator of the blog by the same name on Poynter.com, wrote about our contest in his column. It was fun to talk to him, and I'm happy to say, he did a great job of accuracy checking the information. Just what we like to see.


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