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Imaginary Jobs: A Superhero Called “The Dictionary”

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “No, I don’t want to be part of a dynamic team in a fast-paced environment”? You’re not alone! The recent Great Resignation was swiftly followed by the Great Scramble to Find a New Job, and by the universal realization that looking for a new job is less than no fun. But we are here to help! with a (hopefully) ongoing series of jobs you might not have realized existed (perhaps because they never did or have not for centuries). Find something to suit your skill set!

Recently I went down to the local Words Department (Meaning and Usage Division) to apply for a job as a superhero called “The Dictionary.” I realize that for many years being a superhero was more of a calling than a job, and either you had to be fabulously wealthy or have an unassuming day job to support the lifestyle, but it seems that’s no longer the case. The market is so glutted with superheroes they’ve taken steps to regulate the system. To add some transparency, and to make some money out of it, in keeping with Traditional American Values. And (moneysaving life hack!) it’s so cost-effective to ditch the dual lifestyle and embrace your mild-mannered alter ego.

The job of The Dictionary sounds like a pleasant one, to me, and I think I’d be well-suited for it, or so I argued in my cover letter. I wouldn’t be a snarky sort of word-department-superhero who goes around telling people they used the wrong form of “their,” or they used “less” when they should have used “fewer.” First of all, that’s a job for the grammar police, which is a different division entirely. Second of all, Lord knows I make plenty of mistakes myself, as you can clearly see from my resumé. And finally, I believe that using words incorrectly and spelling them irregularly might be what keeps language alive and changing and growing.

Here’s the plan as I set it out in my interview. If I succeed in securing a job as The Dictionary, I wouldn’t be like some flimsy and succinct online dictionary. I’d be like the OED, all twenty volumes. I wouldn’t tell people what words mean, I’d tell them what the words have meant and how people have used them differently over the centuries, how their meanings vary from year to year and place to place and usage to usage.

I’d fight crime, of course, as is the time-honored duty of a superhero. I’d stop people from taking what doesn’t belong to them and I’d diffuse violent situations. I’d resolve conflicts by showing the combatants that their words have shades of meaning, and I’d show them that if they only shift their understanding slightly one way or another, everybody could get along. I’d show how “attack” can mean “to enter upon a work of difficulty, with the intention of conquering and completing it.” So we can decide together what to attack rather than each other. We can decide that the work of difficulty will be an epic novel or an opera in twelve acts, or equality and justice for all, and we’ll all attack the work together.

If someone is taking what’s not theirs, I’ll point out that “take” originally meant, “to put the hand on, to touch, to lay hands upon, to accept what is handed to one, or even to understand.” And the people take my meaning, and be grateful for what they have. And it still means, “to take root, to germinate, and to begin to grow.” So we’d all marinate on those meanings for a while, and maybe plant a garden together and watch and wait for the seeds to take, and forget why we were fighting. And I’d explain how we could all fight together…we could all fight disease or fight poverty or ignorance instead of each other.

And I’d preemptively combat future crime and violence by building the confidence of young people everywhere. I’d make them feel more heard and less judged, by swooping down in classrooms to explain that “essay” comes from the word “try.” So when you write it’s just to try something, and not to be crippled by fear of failure. You shouldn’t think about a grade, you shouldn’t think about succeeding (or failing). You’re collecting your thoughts and other peoples’ thoughts and you’re seeing where they take you. You’re observing and questioning and tracing connections. So people would feel that they can use their voice with no fear, and they won’t be frustrated in the attempt to express themselves.

And just when everybody is as delightfully bewildered by vagaries of meaning as I am, and everybody agrees that nothing is written in stone or immutable, and that everything is open to interpretation, I’ll reveal that “hope” is a place. It is a piece of enclosed land in the midst of fens or marshes or of waste-land generally; it’s a small, enclosed valley, or an inlet, a small bay or a haven. We’ll find “wide green holms and deep blind ‘hopes’ or hollows among the mountains.” A verdant, sheltered, fertile place in a swampy treacherous world. After weeks or years adrift and uncertain with no clear course we’ll find ourselves in a quiet, peaceful place where we can safely think clearly and make plans for our future. We live in a cluttered ugly world surrounded by confusion and discouragement, by empty cleverness and petty competition. But somewhere in the middle of it all is a sweet-smelling refuge, a Hope where people can work on good things.

Once we reach our Hope we’ll find what we need to make whatever we’ve been dreaming of. We’ll remember where we came from, and think about where we’re going. And when the flowers and fruits come, weu’ll share them with everybody we know and even with those we don’t. And they’ll plant the seeds and grow more fruits and flowers and share those with everyone they know and even those they don’t. And we’ll all work together to discover the meaning of each word that inspires us to work together to make a better world. We make the world by thinking about it and talking about it, and by acting on those thoughts and words, and we will work to make our world the best of all possible worlds.

Do you have an imaginary or outdated job you would love to do? A job you wanted as a child from some misheard line of poetry, like catcher in the rye? Do you want to tell us about it? We’re welcoming essays for the Imaginary Jobs series. Send submissions to magpiesmagazine@gmail.com.

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