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:
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.