Sunday, March 30, 2014

Not Just Cookbooks

Dad's German Dictionary
Not only cookbooks, but a dictionary or two have turned up in the family archives. My sister found Dad's old red German-English dictionary from his college days in one of her bookcases. This was a fortuitous find, since I am taking a short course in German this winter. My classmates found the old dictionary interesting, but pretty much unreadable, for reasons which are explained below.

The book was published in Chicago in 1938 by the Follett Publishing Company; it bears an inscription with Dad's signature, "Union College 1943." That must have been his senior year in college. Upon graduating  --  his class was graduated a few months early because the country was at war  --  he went to work immediately for the Sterling Winthrop Research Institute in Rensselaer, NY. With his degree in Chemistry, he was put to work helping develop and produce a synthetic anti-malaria medication for the soldiers who were fighting in the South Pacific.

But back to the dictionary: It is very difficult for us today to read the German words, since they are written in the old blackletter Gothic typeface known as Fraktur.

Dad's dictionary was printed at a transitional moment when the Fraktur script would soon be abandoned in Germany in 1941, in favor of a Latin typescript. It is believed that this changeover was carried out, "because the Third Reich wanted a form of writing which was more like the writing of the rest of the modern Western World." (1)

Mom's Dutch Dictionary
Dad's dictionary is not the only old one I have; I also have Mom's Cassell's Dutch-English/English-Dutch Dictionary. Published in 1967 by Funk & Wagnalls, it is not as old as Dad's, but the original copyright goes back to 1923. Mom purchased it in order to make sure she used the correct Dutch word when writing to her cousins in the Netherlands. Being the careful person she was, Mom covered the book in a colorful flowered wrapping paper when the dust jacket wore out from use. She was also very meticulous in the way she used to write her letters in English, and then, using the dictionary as needed, translate them and carefully re-write the letter in her impeccable Palmer Method handwriting before posting the letter or aerogram off to Holland.

My French Dictionary
Newer yet is my own Cassell's French-English Dictionary from my college days. My Petit Robert has gone missing, but Cassell's has turned up. This one is also published by Funk & Wagnalls, with a copyright date of 1962. My college years were somewhat later than that, but I can see that this old standby has suffered some wear and tear since then.

And so you can see that we have been a trilingual family.

     - Auf Wiedersehen!
     - Tot ziens!
     - A bientot!

                                                             *        *        *

(1) Hensher, Philip. The Missing Ink. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc. 2012; page 100.

For more information about Fraktur, see the following Web page on the German language and type fonts at:

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