Do you remember in 1981 when we went to Durban city centre and walked almost the entire length of West Street in search of that Buchhandlung – the German bookshop where someone in another bookshop had assured us we would be able to find what I wanted: a big bilingual French<>English dictionary and a big bilingual German<>English dictionary? Do you remember how the only person in the family who thought this was a cool thing to do on holiday was me? Could you tell that I did not really care about the holiday one way or the other, but that I did care about the dictionaries? Could you see how happy I was to see the books I needed on the shelf? Do you remember that the two dictionaries together came to 38 Rand, which seemed like an awful lot?
Do you remember what you asked me? You said, “Are you sure these are the books you want — are these the ones you need?” Before I answered that yes, I was sure, did you see how Mom gave me a look that said, “We did not travel 2,000 kilometres (from Harare to Durban) just so you could choose the wrong book”?
Well, thank you for taking me seriously, and for buying me those books.
I thank you because 36 years later I still love dictionaries, and I have lots of translator friends all over the world who are similarly fond of dictionaries and language-related resources, and some of them translate from German. Yesterday, one such friend told all the rest of us about a special offer online that a famous German dictionary publishing house had: only one Euro for an online copy of a German dictionary equivalent of Strunk & White (use of language, and a bit of a style guide, what’s right and what’s not): Duden ‒ Das Wörterbuch der sprachlichen Zweifelsfälle, 8. Aufl. Berlin 2016. Today she told us that she discovered that for two Euro, we could get a digital copy of the Duden (monolingual German) dictionary itself, the Deutsches Universalwörterbuch. It has over half a million head words, and the paper copy would run to 2,112 pages. Imagine that!
Was I sure I wanted and needed these two books (especially given the total saving of 77 Euros)? Oh, yes! I paid with my credit card, both times. I did not have to walk anywhere. I just typed in a couple of numbers, and confirmed a few details and, as they say, “Bob’s your Uncle”. Oh, and the other question: Will I use them? Yes, why else would I want them? Anyway, I was just so excited about the new reference material (and how times have changed, with computers and technology, and all), I just had to write you this somewhat anachronistic letter, and post it to the ether, where I suppose you are∗.
Your dictionary-loving daughter,
©2017 Allison Wright
∗My father died on 31 December 2015, but since I have just purchased the whole German dictionary for two Euros, writing a letter in blog form to my deceased father does not seem in the least bit crazy.