My favorite words in the English language …

Published 6:00 am Sunday, January 20, 2019

… are OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, the unabridged, iconic 13-volume (mine) Dictionary of the English Language which has all the rest of them in it.

I first heard about it in my teens and soon  moved in a circle where the abridged version was a distinctive and deeply-valued  gift, including weddings, you know.

Everything you needed to know about life for the next 50 years or so!

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So, I opted early for the real deal and decided to own the whole thing.

I was in my late 20s by then and bought it with my tax refund. It was still possible then to own the whole thing for less than a $1000 – though not much. And I ordered it through Rizzoli’s.

Now Rizzoli’s Bookstore in Water Tower Place in Chicago was a rather ritzy affair. And I always dressed up when I went there. But actually taking delivery of 13 huge volumes was not going to be classy, regardless. So, my best friend and I wore worn-out blue jeans, still decades from being fashionable, and escorted a lift in an elevator, making six trips from the street to the store to claim my Dictionary. I’m smiling as I write this.

But of course, there remained the daunting task of getting them home and inside.

Now it’s not unusual when you have an OED to look up a word like “walk” and read 20 pages of definitions in all its forms; its history and derivations; its meanings and transformations, and its proper sound when said. It’s really indescribable!

I remember reading a piece in The New Yorker, I think, by a young writer who relayed this experience with OED.

He had come across the word, “callipygian” one day and didn’t know what it meant. And he had no visual nor vocal recollection of it. He’d never seen it in print nor heard it in speech. It was  entirely new to  him. And he was grown — and a writer! So, he went and looked for it in his OED and, sure enough, it was there. It meant “having a well-shaped buttocks,” OED said.

Who knew? Who, on earth, knew that?

For me, though, it’s been more recent.

I was working a crossword and had done the whole thing except for this one word. And with all letters counted except for this one, I couldn’t figure it out. No letter I tried made sense; none gave me a word I knew. So I opted for “Revelation” (of the square) and discovered the word, “umami.”

I’d never seen it in print nor heard it in speech, and I didn’t know what it was.

Turns out it means “having a strong, meaty taste,” and is considered one of the basic taste sensations along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Who knew? Did you?

There are well over 150,000 words in English. We use about 30,000 of them.

Forget reading a book. Try reading a dictionary!

And make it The OED!

Yolande Robbins is a community correspondent for The Post. Email her at