Friday, June 23, 2006

The Know-It-All

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid reader and have been for some time. I used to be quite pretentious about reading, believing knowledge to be synonymous with intelligence. In these more enlightened times I have of course realised that the two, while related, are very different things. Intelligence is measured by ones creativity and ability to problem solve, whilst knowledge is dependant upon an enquiring mind and a decent memory. Anyone can know a fact but is quite another thing to understand it. A long time ago I realised that I am as intelligent (or unintelligent) as I am, and that there is very little I can do about it, and so I confined myself to the slow but steady accumulation of knowledge. Unfortunately my distinctly average memory leaves me on a par with just about everybody else, but I enjoy it and that’s the main thing.

My quest for knowledge led me to an excellent book, which I have just finished reading, called “The Know-It-All” by A.J. Jacobs. It charts the author’s quest to become the cleverest person in the world by reading the 2002 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A-Z. 33,000 pages, 65,000 entries, 44,000,000 words and weighing in at 9 stone, this was an epic feat that took nearly a year. The book is written over 24 chapters, one for each letter from A to W and one for X, Y and Z and with each chapter telling the authors story interlaced with descriptions of some of the Encyclopaedia’s entries for that particular letter.

The book is a very entertaining read, and it made me want to go out and buy the Britannica so that I could do the same. Unfortunately, this would set be back in the region of £800 so I doubt that I will be doing it anytime soon. Nevertheless, the idea has stuck with me and so if I can’t afford to read the Britannica, maybe I can try something a little cheaper…

…Got it! The Dictionary. I happen to have a copy of the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary sitting on my shelf, so with no expense necessary I have decided to read the whole damn thing from cover to cover. I know that in comparison to the Britannica my quest is decidedly modest; however I do hope that I will get something out of it, even if it is only useful for playing scrabble!

"Hang on a minute!" I hear you scream, "The Chambers Dictionary? What crazy-assed shit is this? Surely the Oxford English Dictionary is the quintessential dictionary, why settle for anything else?" Ok, you have a point, the OED is THE dictionary, the quoted source of Countdown etc. but I have just had a look at a copy and it's typeface is SHIT!!! I can't explain it, but it just gets on my tits, so the Chambers it is.

I intend to start quite soon and in keeping with “The Know-It-All” I think I will publish a few of the more interesting and obscure definitions online. I will post them on a separate blog for anyone who cares. Watch this space.