DotW: Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary

The Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary has been on my shelf for years. I never use it. I write about places sometimes. The other day, I opened it so I could start thinking about writing an entry on it.

Having spent a little time with this dictionary, I feel like not using it is a reasonable choice.

As I flipped, I soon landed on pages 660 and 661. On the left-hand side, there’s a two-paragraph entry on Leipzig. Leipzig is a lovely town; I’ve been there two or three times to visit museums, see a friend in productions at the opera house, and hear glorious choral music at the church where Bach worked. The dictionary tells me that it is also a railroad junction and it was first mentioned around the 11th century. I also learned that it is the capital of a district in East Germany. Oh dear. And that it is the home of Karl Marx University (founded 1409, not with that name).

On the right-hand page: Leningrad. Oh dear again. Fun fact: St. Petersburg was only founded in 1703 and lost that name in 1914, when it was renamed Petrograd. It became Leningrad in 1924. And it’s just one of a column and a half of Lenin names, from Leninabad, formerly Khojend or Khodzhent, in Tajikistan, to Leninsk-Kuznetski, formerly Kolchugino, a coal mining town in Russia.

I don’t think a paper dictionary is the best way to keep up with our rapidly changing world geopolitics. You know I love the dictionaries. This just might be a task that is better suited to the internet, although I don’t know where exactly you would find all of this information. To get the location, population, and principal products of Frosinone, Italy, or Frostburg, Md., I think you either have to go to Wikipedia, which has its own issues with accuracy, or spend a lot of time hunting and gathering for that information across the internet.

In any case, I had a great time looking through the book. I found the entries for every town I’ve lived in and read about plenty of places I’ve never heard of. I was glad to see that the unincorporated entity where I grew up, Silver Spring, Md., gets an entry. Note that there’s only one spring. It’s a real spring, with flakes of mica in it, that gave a name to the countryside estate of Francis Preston Blair, a journalist and political activist. He lived right across from the White House, in what is now called Blair House. The dictionary tells me that, in the 1980 census, there were 72,893 people in Silver Spring and 2,082 people in Silver Springs, Fla.,, so I think my hometown wins the battle of the Silver Spring(s). Or did in 1980, anyway.

In the column to the left of these two is the entry for the Silk Road, which, I am happy to report, gets more than twice as much space as Silver Spring and Silver Springs put together.

Dictionary Stats: Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary

date: 1998
publisher: Merriam-Webster Inc.
length: 1376 pages
guide words on p. 421: Fuente Obejuna or formerly Fuenteovejuna. City, Córdoba prov., S Spain, 46 m. NW of Córdoba; pop. (1970p) 9247; coal, lead, and mica mines; formerly seat of Knights of Calatrava. Funabashi. City, Chiba prefecture, Honshū, Japan; pop. (1980c) 479,439; suburb of Tokyo; fish market.
introduction: The Introduction has huge Acknowledgments section, from Arab Information Center, Washington, D.C. to the Eidgenössisches Statistisches Amt, Bern, Switzerland, and the Institut National de la Statistique, Kinshasha, Zaire. That gives an idea of how big an undertaking it is to dig up all this information.

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