Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If Andrew Clements Had Waited Ten Years, Would Frindle Have Been Written?

Andrew Clements wrote Frindle in 1998.  It is the story of a boy who tried to get out of  homework and a teacher who loved words and dictionaries.  If Clements had waited ten years to write the story, I wonder if Frindle would have ever been written.

Today's Dominion Post was one of the many news outlets that reported the Oxford University Press may discontinue its 130-pound Oxford English Dictionary in favor of its online subscription version.  The fact that the OED as I have come to know and revere it will soon be no more is not news I can readily dismiss. Long the final authority in proper English usage, the OED to me represented to epitome of everything a dictionary can and should be.  If it was not noted in the OED, it was not worthy of my attention.

It is amazing how things have changed in the past decade.  Dictionaries, once a mainstay of any reference collection, are barely consulted.  Truly, I don't lament the printed dictionary's demise.  Online dictionaries offer ample definitions.  Usually all one has to do is right click on a word in a subscription database and the database will pronounce the word and display a dictionary entry.  Google will provide the definition of a word if the word "define" preceeds the word in its search box.  Why do we need anything else?

I never thought I would see the death of the OED, although it will live on in a digital format.  Apparently the online version still receives about two million hits per month.  Certainly, the annual price, $299, is not excessive.  Still, I wonder who the subscribers and users are.  My guess is members of the academic community rather than those of us in the P-12 environment.

Back to Frindle:

Prior to the beginning of the school year fifth grader teacher Mrs. Granger sends parents a list of "acceptable" dictionaries they might buy for their students. On the first day of class Nick tries to trick Mrs. Granger out of assigning homework by asking her a question about the origin of dictionaries.  Being no first year teacher, Mrs. Granger sees through Nick's ruse and assigns him - only him - the task of researching dictionaries and reporting to the class the next day.  Although initially stunned to be outwitted by a teacher, Nick is hooked by what he learns about the history of dictionaries and creates a social experiment to create a new word for pen -frindle. A war of words between Mrs. Granger and Nick ensues, until finally, seventeen years later the word frindle appears in the new edition of  Webster's College Dictionary.

Seventeen years from 1998 (the date of publication) is 2015.  Will we still have print dictionaries then?  I certainly doubt we will have them in 2025.  So if Andrew Clements had waited ten years to write his story, would he still have the same story to tell.

It would be nice to know what Mrs. Granger's reaction to electronic media is.

What I really want to know is how much longer Frindle will be relevant to our students.  The thought saddens me.  It's a great story.

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