15 January 2010

Date and Scrabble dictionaries as inspirational aids to speechwriters

While editing some video clips for a forthcoming presentation, I was reminded of how useful dictionaries can sometimes be when writing speeches or preparing presentations.

Dictionaries of dates

All too often, looking to see if anything significant might have happened on the same date as a speech is being made yields no more than a list of births and deaths of people you've never heard of.

But occasionally a quick search can yield a fantastic dividend. When the Challenger shuttle disaster prompted Ronald Reagan to scrap his 1986 state of the union address in favour of a televised speech to the nation, speechwriter Peggy Noonan must have been surprised and delighted to discover that it was exactly 390 years since Sir Francis Drake died at sea - which provided for an apt and powerful contrast between the two events:

Word-game dictionaries

A year later, and on a much more modest stage, I was working on a speech with Paddy Ashdown, who was the education spokesman for the Liberal-SDP Alliance in the 1987 general election and was scheduled to speak at the launch rally at the Barbican in London.

We'd got as far as a promising puzzle that projected a 3-parted alliterative solution, but got stuck for a third word beginning with the letter 'R'.

The answer quickly came from a Scrabble dictionary. As with other word-game dictionaries, the advantage is that no space is wasted describing meanings of words, so anyone in search of alliterative inspiration can scan through the lists at high speed.


Richard I. Garber said...


The modern US equivalent for a date dictionary is the American Memory web site from the Library of Congress. Last month I was looking for a theme for a Toastmasters club meeting on December 23. We already had a couple of Christmas-related themes. I looked here: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/dec23.html

Then I scrolled down to very happily find a theme of Home for the Holidays. I read about how in 1783 George Washington had resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army to head home for the holidays (for the first time in nine years as a private citizen). Does the British Library have a similar feature?

Some further web searching for what else happened on December 23 turned up that in Iceland they celebrate that date as Saint Thorlak’s Day, since he died on that day back in 1193. By 1198 the Althing had proclaimed him a saint. However, the Vatican took until 1984 to canonize him as patron saint of Iceland. Consider this story if you think that your bureaucracy is slow to act!


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john wood said...

Dictionary For Scrabble are common now. Various new words are being accepted as a word so there is a need to get good scrabble dictionaries.