DICTIONARY: is the only publication with enough spinal flexibility to have itself looked up

dictionary (dick-shun-ary) n.,pl. +areeze 1. a reference data base in book or electronic form representing the freeze-dried consensus of linguistic specimen collection committees. 2. a fossilized catalogue of opinions of contemporary conservative usage. 3. a linguistic museum of words, tagged and classified as to their origins and history. 4. an unquestionable authoritative reference for many word games. 5. a hire-pool for literary endeavour, where everything is available with instructions for operation and the penalty for misuse can be construed as creativity. 6. an agency for actors, able to supply a verbal thespian to cast in any play on words that might be devised. 7. a cryptic documentation of the origins, evolution, flexibility and ambiguity of language. 8. the uncomfortable evidential reminder of the limited vocabulary of the users. 9.the repository of structural grammars and acceptable usage. [from dictionarium; a collection of dictions - C16 Latin Dictionary (reprint).]

Dictionaries are traditionally organized in alphabetic order to avoid the inevitable philosophical confusion which would arise if 'Ends' were to come before 'Beginnings' or 'Death' was to precede 'Birth'. They also reflect the experiences of pragmatic behavioural initiatives with respect to the central issues of daily living. 'Gardening' comes before either 'Sex' or 'Money-making' but only a little after 'Food' and 'Friendship'. More profoundly, it is necessary that 'Comprehension' comes before 'Dictionary', because in order to look up the meaning of the word 'Dictionary', there needs to already be a glimmering of comprehension as to what a dictionary is and how it works. The situation is just the same as it is with your doctor or lawyer. One does not ask them what they do for a living, because you will already know that.

The most extensive and ambitious tomes become monuments to ephemeral linguistic facts. They are exhaustive collection of stated meanings... all with unstated but virtual evaluations of truth. The collected bias of the contributors weighs their ruling judgements on usage and makes the entire opus available as a comprehensive certificate of authenticity. Once complete, the monument ages even more swiftly than its creators.

In spite of all the above, it is grudgingly admitted that dictionaries... like doctors and lawyers... do have their uses. There are times when one just cannot do without them.