Statistics claim that roughly 60 per cent of people make New Year resolutions but only 8 per cent are successful at keeping them. I think the 60 per cent number is high. I think the 8 per cent number is high, too.
My resolution is not to believe other people’s numbers about the rest of us.
The last resolution I made was when I was 12, and it wasn’t New Year’s. It was the last day of school and the beginning of summer. I resolved to read through the dictionary.
I could hardly wait to see the impressive multiple-syllable words I’d be weaving into my essays when school resumed. Naturally, I didn’t want to make others feel inferior because they weren’t as high-minded, so I quietly retrieved the family dictionary, keeping my plan to myself.
It was an unabridged dictionary, an enormous, oversized hardback that probably weighed half as much as I did. I sat down on the floor, pulled the cumbersome book onto by lap, opened the cover and turned to the first page of a new life and a new vocabulary.
To my surprise, the first page was not words beginning with ‘‘a,’’ but rather a long introduction about how dictionaries are compiled, followed by pages of names of editorial staff and contributors, and more pages listing people on something called a Usage Panel. Then came ‘‘A Brief History of the English Language’’, though there was nothing brief about it, followed by an even longer report, ‘‘The Indo-European Origin of English’’.
My legs grew numb from the weight of the dictionary. My eyelids felt strangely heavy. I repositioned the book and myself on the floor and began again, speeding past ‘‘Grammar and Meaning’’ and ‘‘The Spelling and Pronunciation of English’’, and a section on lexicography, which it turns out is not the same as making maps.
The reading was so dry my mouth was parched. Even worse was the distraction from outside – a kickball game in the street. Of all the nerve.
I returned to my task and, at last, the page with a giant A on it. There were 26 entries for A – as an abbreviation or symbol – with many of those listing subpoints ‘‘a’’ through ‘‘d’’. I forged ahead, the ‘‘A’’s slowly blurring and a hollow thud as the weight of my head became too great to bear.
The next thing I knew, someone yelled, ‘‘Dinner!’’ I opened my eyes, stood up, looked in the mirror and, in the golden shafts of twilight, saw hideous creases covering the side of my face. I had fallen asleep on the second page of A. That was as close as the contents of the dictionary would ever get to my brain.
My vocabulary did grow over the years, not from a self-imposed goal, but naturally – from reading, listening, conversations and looking up unfamiliar words.
That puts me in the 92 per cent of people who aren’t successful at keeping resolutions. I’m fine with that, or amiable, affable, and agreeable, whichever you prefer.
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