Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Oxford English Dictionary online, & a good quote from Sartre

The Oxford University Press, publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), has a useful website (www.askoxford.com) which offers free access to the contents of the OED & other databases, allowing one to get the definitive definitions to words, & answers to various types of questions about words, languages, & more. Also available is a "word-a-day" email service, worthwhile for building one's vocabulary.

On that site, I found an interesting line by Jean-Paul Sartre, a writer & thinker who had a great influence on me in my college days, an influence still at work in me. His famous early novel, Nausea, was one of the 2 or 3 most powerful novels I had read by the time I reached the age of 21. His later book, The Words, is one of his shortest, simplest statements, a small book, large with meaning & value. I do not know the source of this quote on the OED site, but it certainly expresses one of the chief notions Sartre deals with in Nausea, that habitual actions must, by definition & by the nature of humans, lose much of their power over time, lose much of their meaning & value, to the person who practices them. (I'm not sure I completely agree with that now, having lived an additional quarter-century, & thus, having practiced a number of habits that have probably helped me to make it this far.)

Good habits: they are never good, because they are habits. --Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

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