You say al-KAY-duh and I say al-KY-duh…

you say toe_MAY-tuh and I say toe-MAH-tuh…

Alright that’s enough singing for today, except to sing the praises of some favorite reference books—most of which are missing from my shelves. Many  useful  tomes have disappeared over the years due to multiple moves back and forth across the country; yard sales; natural disintegration; and “Where the hell did I put that book?”

I still possess THE BIG BOOK OF BEASTLY MISPRONUNCIATIONS: THE COMPLETE OPINIONATED GUIDE FOR THE CAREFUL SPEAKER by Charles Harrington Elster which was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006—current enough to include al-Qaeda and gigabyte.


 “There is no WINE in genuine.”

It’s a witty gem and still available from Amazon here.


In high school I had a slim little paperback  pronunciation guide devoted to artists and writers names. That’s how I learned to properly say the name of one  my favorite writers:

Alfred Jarry


A recent search online didn’t locate the book I had, but found several sites specializing in pronouncing names of artists.


Got proper names?

I still have my mass market paperback copy of  THE PERSONS, PLACES, & THINGS SPELLING DICTIONARY by William C. Paxson. It’s especially handy for trademarked brands like, say, La-Z-Boy.

I bet Stephen King keeps a copy by his bed.


Setting aside Roget and books on art, symbols, wordplay & origins,  if I had to pick my favorite reference it would likely be WHAT’S WHAT: A VISUAL GLOSSARY OF THE PHYSICAL WORLD by Reginald Bragonier and David Fisher.


I’ve owned several editions and couldn’t live without it. I mean, how else would I know what to call the various parts of a baseball glove.

Unfortunately my copy of What’s What is locked away in storage, go figure.


With Google at our fingertips, bound reference works undoubtedly top the endangered species list. Hell, Google knows everything. Besides, reference books are usually heavy, expensive, require frequent updating, and take up lots of space. Forgive another reference to baseball, but that’s more than three strikes right there.

On the other hand you can’t hold virtual reference books, nor thrill to the tactile sensations; you can’t sniff ‘em; can’t pencil notes or doodle in their margins; can’t admire and arrange them in one’s personal library. And you certainly can’t pile them on top of each other to use as a step ladder.



Then again, I don’t miss the absurd two-volume set of the OED I bought back in 1971. Anyone remember the so-called “compact” edition? It weighed a ton and cost a bundle, even though it was only a fraction of the standard 20-volume version. This absurd casebound edition included a built-in drawer and a magnifying glass for deciphering the fine-print. There were like six shrunken pages from the original squeezed onto a single page.

It was an idea the editors of National Lampoon might have cooked up. Nevertheless, I fell for it. I may even have referred to it half a dozen times before unloading it on some other sucker.

In retrospect, this dictionary was probably what inspired the creation of Google.