October 23, 2018


I wonder how Jiminy Cricket would have handled the æ.

Half of the articles in the Encylopædia Britannica are now available on its website for free.  They used to be behind a $70-a-year pay wall, but, as the Chicago Tribune recently “>watch Jiminy Cricket sing the opening song:

Curiosity, people say,

Killed a kitty cat one fine day.

Well, this may be true, but hear me –

Here is what to do for curiosity:

Get the en…cyclopedia,




If you want to know the answers, here is the way.

A generation learned to spell that word from that song.  I’m sure it was THE longest word I knew how to spell at the time, though it wasn’t the longest word I knew.  That would be the 28-letter antidisestablishmentarianism, whose meaning I didn’t quite get until I was in graduate school, and which the Merriam-Webster dictionary – owned now by the Britannica Company – “>risks you run when you use it.  Harvard officially tells its freshmen that “some information in Wikipedia may well be accurate,” and THAT it’s convenient “when the stakes are low (you need a piece of information to settle a bet with your roommate, or you want to get a basic sense of what something means before starting more in-depth research),” but it’s “not a reliable source for academic research.” The Britannica – whose graphic appeal has come a long way since I donated mine to the Friends of the Los Angeles Public Library – today still employs some 500 editors, contributors and other staff, which makes Wikipedia’s paid editorial team of zero an actual ghost town. 

But the choice isn’t Wikipedia or the Britannica.  If you vigilantly take into account the accuracy of the sources you use – and in an infotainment age that monetizes ignorance, that’s a big if – then most of the information in the history of the world is available to anyone, anytime, for free on a device you can carry around in your pocket.

I have to keep reminding myself of that.  It’s a miracle that I can find a clip of Jiminy Cricket singing e-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a on YouTube; that I can figure out how to type the æ that the Britannica has shrewdly kept in its brand (on a Mac keyboard, it’s option + single-quote); that I can EFFORTLESSLY learn ONLINE what an æ is (a digraph or ligature), and what it’s called (AN ash).  It’s a wonderment that I can enter the name of a website into Alexa and learn its ranking; find out what the Harvard Guide to Using Sources