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Because I have trouble spelling correctly I often consult a little book (5-1/2" x 3-3/4") titled "20,000 Words" that I've had most of my life. My aunt, who worked as a secretary, gave it to me when I was in middle school and having trouble with polysyllable words when writing compositions.

"20,000 Words" is just that : a list of 20,000 words, three columns to a page, 222 pages in the main text and another 22 pages divided into short articles titled "Spelling Aids", "Homonyms" (an explanation of 'homoym' and 5 pages of word pairs which are not strictly homonymous), and "Punctuation Simplified". The words listed in the main text show syllable division and accentation but no definitions or word origins.

The foreword of "20,000 Words" defines the purpose of the book as being an aid in spelling and dividing words which, the publisher feels, is the reason for going to a dictionary 90% of the time. Furthermore, according to the foreword, anyone wanting to know the finer shades of meaning would need an unabridged dictionary so a pocket-sized edition would be relatively useless. Therefore, "20,000 Words", which excludes simple one-syllable words (hat, rat), rare and archaic, or obsolete and obsolescent words, should be a useful tool for students, office workers and those in the writing game.

It has been my desk companion for many years and I have just about worn it out. The edges of the pages are deckled from use, the spine is held together with more layers of sticky tape than I can count, and even the boards have lost most of the linen on their edges.

If you have gotten this far you are probably asking yourself,

"So what, what is that OF going on about?"

Well, I consulted "20,000 Words" tonight because I wanted to do a writeup about "paranoia" or "paranoid" or "paranoiac" behavior. I could not find any of those words in "20,000".

I had come across an article in my local paper about a terror scare when cornstarch was used in front of a local Walmart store to mark the route of a runners' trail. The store was evacuated and remained closed for two hours while police investigated possible terrorist activity. I also found another article in the same newspaper about a police department "fetch-and-carry" robot used to retrieve a knapsack spotted under a portable bathroom building in a schoolyard.

I've noticed an increasing tendency towards what I feel is paranoiac behavior since 9-11. Perhaps the fact that my 1951 edition of "20,000 Words" does not even consider "paranoia" a common word is food for thought. Or perhaps I am obsolescent.

"20,000 Words - Third Edition" - Code No. 37223
The News-Journal

It is difficult to communicate with a person who adamantly refuses to accept any idea that contradicts her.

My friend was the last of our trio to plunk his identification card on the counter of the university health service. "Student", he said.

The elderly aide looked at him, then peered over her glasses (like only an elderly woman does) at my other colleague and I.

Being employed in a research institute, it was imperative that we obtain licences to work with radioactive substances, which is why we were there. My friend (we'll call him J) was a graduate student in the lab, with the fervent desire to leave after he had obtained his PhD.

The elderly aide (Auntie) scrutinised at my other colleague and I (the bona fide employees) before turning back to J.

"Staff", she pronounced.

Naturally, he had to protest against this convenient label. J had no intention of becoming a staff member until he reached 105.

"No, I'm a student."

(Another short pause followed this assertion.)

"Ah, but you're staff, right?"

It was obvious that the water had not sunk deep. Some might say that the soil was impervious to any attempts to inject even a little moisture, as could be understood from the exchange that followed.

Regarding the exchange that followed, I feel no obligation to elaborate. Suffice to say that Auntie was taking no truck from a graduate student, who having arrived with two staff members, was very firm with his status as a "student, I'm a STEW-DENT."

It was mostly more amusing than exasperating, and more exasperating than teaching a fish to polevault.

In the end, a more enlightened nurse came to our rescue upon seeing that Auntie had made no progress in processing applications for the past five minutes. Auntie grudgingly allowed that J was INDEED a student as he claimed and the world stopped laughing.

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