On December 6, I read in The Writer’s Almanac, that it was the date of the first publishing of the Washington Post and the Encyclopædia Britannica. The year for the Washington Post was 1877. That’s an impressive run. But the Britannica started, one section a week, in 1768. Now that’s really impressive.
One of my mother’s working mottoes was “When in doubt, check it out.” She did keep a large dictionary on the shelf right by her place at the kitchen table. That was our handy-dandy reference for Scrabble games played right there. (And I still remember my brother’s brilliant use of his letters: ‘quipu’. By jingo netties, there was such a word!) Otherwise, if something came up in daily conversation she’d just give us ‘the look’ and we knew we had to get up and go check it out. In our home we had quite a nice library where we could find the answers to most questions. Atlases, thesauri, things like Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations or Bullfinch’s Mythology, even an Emily post, and, of course, the Encyclopædia Britannica. (Spellcheck doesn’t like ‘encyclopædia’, but it’s Brit therefor it is encyclopædia. So there!) I believe my parents purchased their set of the Britannica shortly after their marriage in 1939. I purchased my own set, on time of course, in the late 1960’s when I moved in to my own digs. I had that set for ages.
Today, of course, it’s Wikipedia. What would I do without it? Much as my mother did with her dictionary in the kitchen, I keep my backup laptop right by my chair in the living room. When we want further information on something intriguing on the TV, I can bring up Wikipedia and learn more. I consult it almost every day. I think my fingers would be raw if I had to do as much flipping through the Britannica or other references. December is the month where folks with inquiring minds like mine are asked to donate to keep Wikipedia’s pages advertisement free. I’ll drink to that! Anything to get to one of the few and far-between websites without those annoying ads. And I’ll donate too – as I’ve already done this month. Why don’t you go and make a donation too?
I don’t know if you’d call it a ‘section’, but my favorite volume of my parents’ Britannica was always Musk-Ozon. Don’t ask me why I remember that particular volume, but I do. Perhaps because, to me, musk was a funny word – as in “What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!”