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With all the e-mails I’ve been getting here at Storyteller Central about The Maine Dictionary, I can only assume that a lot of readers got a copy of my dictionary for Christmas or Hanukkah.
Most of the e-mails are positive in their comments about the dictionary – which I appreciate - but some want to know where I ever got the idea that I could write a dictionary.
I guess the idea came from the publisher who offered me an advance and a contract. That appeared to be all the encouragement I needed.
Maybe I didn’t know much but I knew that people who write things like dictionaries are called “lexicographers,” which didn’t bother me: I’d been called a lot worse.
After being offered an advance and a contract I decided that if I was really going to attempt to write a dictionary I should probably get out of the house and do things like “field recording.” And “research.” I wasn’t really sure – at first – what a field recording was, but I once read somewhere about writers going into the field and making “field recordings.”
By the way, if you’ve ever tried to record a typical Maine field, it’s not as easy as it sounds. I learned that right off quick.
Fact is, in my back field there’s hardly any sound at all, and the sounds my field makes aren’t the types of sounds I thought of putting in either a field recording or a Maine dictionary.
After a few days of that taping foolishness I decided to take a trip Down East. I figured if I was going to be defining things like Maine words I’d better take a refresher course in how those words are still being used in the heartland of Maine culture – Down East.
At one point I found myself sitting at the counter of a Down East diner (Dinah) with a pad in one hand and a coffee in the other. I began writing down words that people all around me were using.
After a while, some of the customers turned and look at me kind of funny, but I didn’t care because I was a budding “lexicographer” working on The Maine Dictionary and there was all kinds of work I had to do – like figuring out exactly what kind of work a lexicographer did.
I could go on-and-on about all the exhaustive research that went into The Maine Dictionary but you probably wouldn’t believe any of it, so I won’t.
Let’s just say for the four months it took me to write the dictionary I awoke every morning a 5 and was at my computer by 5:23 and usually got my first sentence of the day fished within a few hours 9 o’clock at the latest.
Using this effective method, and a few others that – at this point are too painful to recall – I eventually got the book done.
It is to be expected that some readers – like those who e-mailed me recently – will question the way certain words are rendered phonetically and defined in my dictionary. That is how scholarly works like The Maine Dictionary should be evaluated.
To those discerning readers we say in all sincerity: Oh, yeah, barnacle breath, let’s see you write one.
Fortunately the overwhelming number of emails we’ve received here since the dictionary first appeared in stores have been positive and gratifying and for that we are thankful.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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