Penguin Rhyming Dictionary

Title: The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary

Author: Rosalind Fergusson.

Publisher: Penguin, 1985

ISBN: 0140511369

She was a bluestocking
Who wore blue smocking
Stitched into frocking..
The fashion world said
"How shocking!"

This unsung book is not new, but is not known about by many people who might use it. It belongs next to the dictionary and thesaurus in every house in the English-writing world.

Oh, it will be on the shelves of a few songwriters, a few working poets, a few advertising studios. It may be on the shelves of a few school libraries. It has a place in every home where children write poetry homework, and where adults write posters for church bazaars or jumble sales. It ought to be on every shelf where adults have reached the "failing memory" stage - simply because rhymes help us remember. My Mr. Smith takes the pith!

The rhyme may be needed as a mnemonic, to sell cars or bras in jars, with payment in Pyas. It is catching, very very catching. So good for bazaars, although too recent for hussars.

Rhymes help us learn to read and to spell. It is not for nothing that among the first literatures to be "stolen" by children from the adult world were the nursery rhymes.

I wish it were a little easier to use: children are often asked to write rhyming poems - in fact many children prefer poetry to rhyme. For children under 11, this dictionary really needs adult intervention. Parents or a hassled teachers can ease younger children's paths by suggesting rhymes, selecting from the two and a half columns offered under (for example) -ay: day but not dey, clay but not fley, grey and spray but not whey… unless they have already studied the project on cheese-making.

Penguin please note, we think you should print a children's version. We think it would be very popular.

There is a second problem. The phonics are dependant upon received pronunciation. In the north of England "bath" does not rhyme with "hearth", but rather with "hath". This may limit the book's usefulness. We see no reason why the computer programme which was used to create this book could not be reset for dialectical differences.

Words are arranged in phonetic order. There is a phonetic alphabet at the start of the book, which helps. Like a thesaurus, you use the index at the back to look up your first word, and it sends you to a paragraph full of choice possibilities from which to choose your rhyme.

We open it for a very practical purpose - to find a rhyme - and find ourselves "unfurling new antiworlds" imaginatively stretched. The incongruity of words placed next to each other inclines us to hitherto unthought possibilities. Has anyone made a prunelle quenelle (a dumpling tasting of prune liqueur)? And if so, was it comestible, or perfectly revolting?

For those of us who love words, it is irresistible. We find new words and remind ourselves of old ones, especially those long forgotten from biology text books. Necrobiosis has such a wonderful ring - it surprises us it isn't a swear word.

Words are so important. They enable us to express our thoughts, our emotions, our intentions. A stronger vocabulary base takes us to places where we can negotiate ourselves out of trouble. Speculation, irony: these are ways in which we play imaginatively with ideas, create entire new worlds, and deal with the stresses and distresses of the one in which we live.

Most importantly, I think, for Lexentrics, is that they allow us to be Lexentric: to express our unique identity using precision of meaning.

Rosemary Greenlaw

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