Viktor got that faraway look in his eye that always serves to warn me that one of his pronouncements is on the way, and I was not mistaken. He put his finger into the air and said, “The time has come to consult the greatest and most extravagant book ever written!”
We opened the safe and and gazed with rapture and awe upon our latest acquisition.
“Do you see it, Einida? Do you see its magnificence? Its stupendousness? Look at the lavish box that holds those two mighty volumes together like hands humbly enfolded in prayer,” he said in a whisper.
With trembling hands, Viktor carefully lifted one of the large tomes up to his nose and inhaled deeply. Then, as if bearing aloft a tiny infant to a baptismal font, he passed the book over to me and said, “Take a deep breath, pause, and inhale the delicate perfume of seven hundred thousand beautiful words. This is a matter not to be taken lightly. You shall be sniffing the greatest book in the history of mankind– ‘The Oxford English Dictionary.” He sighed, overcome with emotion.
I took the book and tentatively inhaled. Then, after I coughed, said, “Oh my, the smell of seven hundred thousand words is, erm, quite pungent. Quite a crowd there, that seven hundred thousand. That is quite a distinctive smell. It smells like human, erm, knowledge.”
“Can you believe that you have the English language in its magisterial entirety here, in your very hands? How is this possible, you may ask? And to you I would reply….”
He paused dramatically and slid open a tiny drawer that was built into the top of the dictionary’s cardboard case.
“A magnifying glass!,” he cackled as he triumphantly brandished a rather battered hand lens over his head.
“And I know what you must be thinking–that’s not the original glass. Bah! This magnificent magnifying glass is even better than the original! Remember when our dear comrade, Professor Bellanger K. Shahhat was sent to Russia on a quest to find us a magnifying glass? This fantastic, archaic lens was purchased by him from an amber dealerin Mandrogy!”
“Why does the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ come with a magnifying glass?,”asked Dr. Phil, who had stopped his experiment and ambled over when he saw the group of people that had gathered around us, drawn by the mesmerizing power of the book.
“Well, actually the book is referred to as ‘The OED’ by those of us in the know. And it came from the publisher with a magnifying glass because the only way to fit seven hundred thousand glorious words into a book of two volumes is to make the type smaller than most human eyes can discern,” explained Viktor.”Our set was purchased at a substantial discount, and somewhere along the line, the original magnifying glass vanished into the ether.”
The fifteen-pound book weighed heavy in my hands. Clearly, it meant to be studied by someone sitting at a desk, not lollygagging in front of a safe.
The day we acquired the OED was one of great celebration. Viktor handed out test tubes filled with an intoxicant of indeterminate provenance and insisted that we decorate the laboratory with banners and balloons that said, “Welcome home, ‘Oxford English Dictionary’!”
My gentle reminiscences were interrupted when Viktor asked impatiently, “Well? Is the word ‘nincompoop’ in the OED or not? I simply can not wait another moment for the answer.”
And, gentle reader, if we do indeed ever manage to stump the OED, you will be among the first to know.