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Saturday, July 28, 2001


A dictionary by any other name is not so sweet

The Japanese have a curious habit of naming dictionaries. Not names like Taro, Yumi, Pochi, or something that might come if you called it, but names that are meant to conjure up an image. Here is a list of English-Japanese, Japanese-English Dictionaries and possible images they are meant to convey:

Obunsha's New Sunrise Dictionary. This dictionary appeals to you if you look at each new day as a beginning of your English learning experience. This is good because your previous day of learning English was most likely fraught with unknown polysyllabic vocabulary, dangling modifiers, and dependent clauses. At the end of yesterday, you felt like chucking the entire English language, with its silent E 's, noun-verbs and adjectivals into your septic tank, never to be touched again. But with the New Sunrise Dictionary, no matter how smelly and disgusting the language was the day before, you will remember that not only will there be a sunrise the next day, but a NEW sunrise! No old ones, fakes or frauds. With the new sunrise will come a fresh, more engaging experience with the English language, probably involving the present perfect and helping verbs, things that at least sound kinder.

For those of you who live in big cities with tall buildings blocking the sunrise, or if you just can't get out of bed early enough to see the sunrise, Obunsha offers a dictionary especially for you called Sunrise Quest. You will always be on a quest for the sunrise and, perhaps, the English language. But still, this dictionary offers hope, along with the insatiable desire for more discreet grammar points and example sentences.

For people who just don't care for sunrises old or new, Shoseki offers their New Horizon Dictionary. The horizon should be easier to find than the sunrise since it moves only horizontally, meaning you don't have to set your alarm to be able to see it. And everyone knows that the horizon is where the English language lives anyway, or at least beyond the horizon on landmasses like Australia, England and the U.S. Just make sure you've found the new horizon, not the old one. The old horizon was the one people used when they thought the earth was flat. The problem is that for most of us, we can't see the horizon because there is a large object in front of it called Japan. Because of all the mountains, the only place to really see the horizon in Japan is seaside.

This fact probably accounts for the seafaring nature of the English language. Thus we have Kenkyusha's Green Lighthouse Dictionary, suitable for those learning English onboard. Ahoy maties! Swab the decks while learning English. "This is a lighthouse." "This is a green lighthouse." Those of you with a sophmoric knowledge of English's seafaring roots may want to start with Kenkyusha's College Lighthouse Dictionary.

If you don't feel ready for college lighthouses, I suggest Gakken's Jr. Anchor Dictionary. This dictionary, probably very heavy, is for those who really want a challenge at sea. The words will weigh you down and cause you to sometimes stay in the same place, treading water. Always wear a lifevest.

Benesse offers a dictionary called Challenge, with a picture of rockets launching on the cover. If learning English is anything like rocket science, I don't think we should be teaching it to students in school. They should learn basic studies before they get into fuel injection, turbo charged ions and zero gravity. Unless they are geniuses, in which case they should have a different dictionary altogether -- Taishukan's Young Genius. Taishukan realized, however, that it was a real waste of genius to give these students an abridged dictionary, so they came out with the Unabridged Genius Dictionary.

Kenkyusha's Riidazu is an English dictionary with the name written in Japanese katakana so that you're not sure if the title is the English "leaders' " or "reader's." This dictionary is for all those who wish to become world leaders. Or world readers. If you'd like something a little lighter, try Kenkyusha's Luminous Dictionary. It glows all by itself.

For very particular learners, Kenkyusha offers the Custom Dictionary. This means you can choose which words you want in your dictionary, so you don't have to bother carrying around all those entries you'll never use anyway. For the very, very particular, fond of phytoplankton, phloem and xylem, try Kumon's Green Dictionary.

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