Thanks to the Dictionary (1961)


Comens, Bruce. Apocalypse and After: Modern Strategy and Postmodern Tactics in Pound, Williams and Zukofsky. U of Alabama Press, 1995. 148-151.

Quartermain, Peter. “Writing and Authority in Zukofsky’s Thanks to the Dictionary.” In Scroggins (1997): 154-174. Rpt. Stubborn Poetries: Poetic Facticity and the Avant-Garde (2013): 69-86.

Sloboda, Nicholas. “Introducing the Ludic: The Poetics of Play in Louis Zukofsky’s Fiction.” English Studies in Canada 23.2 (1997): 201-215.

Twitchell-Waas, Jeffrey. “Louis Zukofsky.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 22.3 (2002): 13-20.

Watten, Barrett. “New Meaning and Poetic Vocabulary: From Coleridge to Jackson Mac Low.” Poetics Today 18.2 (1997): 147-186. Rpt. Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics (2003): 1-44.

According to Quartermain, LZ primarily worked on this “novel” from July 1932 to Dec. 1934, although he continued to do some tinkering until 16 August 1939 when he settled on the sequential order (158-159). However, as with other works from this period, it would not be until 1959 before the work partially saw print in Combustion 10 (May) and then appeared complete in the volume of his short fiction, It Was (Kyoto, Japan: Origin Press, 1961). “Song 28” (“’Specifically, a writer of music’”) in 55 Poems (1941) is clearly part of or grew out of the Thanks to the Dictionary project (CSP 61-64), deploying a similar compositional method using the dictionary.

Chronological list of non-book publication of selections from “Thanks to the Dictionary” as follows:

1959     from Thanks to the Dictionary. Combustion 10 (May): 8-9 [from David and Michal: from “The twelve peers of France” to “I have been outspoken” (276-277) and from “She stood among the very numerous” to “…but she had become numberless” (279-280); from David and Bath-sheba: from “An aside of Bath-sheba sitting” to “from my being here, —our love again” (281-282)].

1968     from Thanks to the Dictionary. Buffalo, NY: The Galley Upstairs Press [a broadside with two brief quotations lineated and dated 1932: from “A visitor making a visit” to “It has become visitatorial” (273) and from “My three unequal and dissimilar axes” to “let’s make it liquid” (270)].
from Thanks to the Dictionary. Monks Pond 2 (Summer): 1-2 [Preface and from Young David: from “Not otherwise provided for” to “identical as their composition” (265-267)].

Thanks to the Dictionary primarily consists of the Biblical story of David and improvisations out of the dictionary. According to Quartermain the basic method seems to have involved rolling dice to determine a page of the dictionary (the definition for dice appears at 284/290) and then writing out of or with the words and definitions found on the designated page. However, it is clear that not all pages were chosen in a random manner, as, for example, the first page or “Preface” (265/270), uses the first page of the dictionary, the opening paragraph of “Degrees” (284/290) contains the definition for “dictionary” and the next paragraph (“Dates! dates! dates!…”) works with the page containing “David.”  In whatever precise manner a dictionary page was selected, the general rule seem to have been that any given section (marked off by asterisks) uses the words and definitions found on that page. Nevertheless, it is evident that LZ also interpolated other materials that interested him, perhaps most notably scientific texts. For a discussion of LZ’s method in writing “Thanks to the Dictionary,” see Quartermain 160-163, who states that LZ used two different dictionaries: Funk & Wagnalls Practical Standard Dictionary (1930) and Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1917). However, to the extent that I have been able to investigate this question, if seems LZ primarily if not entirely used the former dictionary, whose full title is: The Practical Standard Dictionary of the English Language (Funk & Wagnalls, 1930), abridged from the Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language, ed. Frank Vizetelly. 

Once one is aware that LZ is working from a given page of the dictionary, it is usually not difficult to identify where he is working from, although for the most part he sticks very closely to the specific wording of his text. The following notes include a handful of sections with images of the relevant pages from LZ’s copy of the Funk & Wagnalls dictionary and transcriptions of the words and definitions he incorporated, which are given in the order he used them, keeping in mind that he at times looped back to previously used definitions. 

Note on the Text: There are two distinct printings of the Dalkey Archive edition of Collected Fiction (1990), which effects some of the pagination, although there is no indication of the difference in the later reset printing. In both printings, Little is photostatted from the original Grossman publication (1970), while the additional stories collected as It Was were first set in a different and somewhat unsightly type, which apparently is why the latter was reset to make a more uniform looking volume in 1997. As a result, the pagination is the same for Little, but different for the other stories. In the notes below I give references to both printings, the first referring to the 1997 printing currently in print. In the paperback editions, the earlier printing has an all-white cover with a full front cover photo of LZ, while the 1997 printing has a mostly black cover with the photo of LZ reduced and cropped.

Notes to Thanks to the Dictionary


265/270   “A”…: aside from “a” being the obvious place to start a work composed with the dictionary, the opening sentences of the Preface allude to LZ’s ongoing “A”. “My sawhorses” refers to “A”-7, which LZ recognized as a breakthrough poem in terms of liberating his language from referentiality. Mention of “An” perhaps anticipates LZ’s plan to begin the later movements of “A” with “an,” which although he would not put it into practice until 1964 with “A”-14, he already had in mind as early as 1930 (see EP/LZ 80).
   The following definitions are taken from the first page (A to abaft) of LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary, see image here:
a., abbr. Accepted, acre, active, adjective, afternoon, aged, alto, anonymous, answer, ante (L., before), at.
A. A. C., abbr. Anno ante Christum (the year before Christ).
a, indef. art. or adj. One; any; some; each; before a vowel, an.
aback, So as to be pressed backward, as sails; backward; aloof.
aasvogel, [S. Afr. D.] A vulture.
Ab, The 5th month (30 days) of the Jewish year, now corresponding with part of July and of August. The 9th day of Ab is a fast-day to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, 586 B. C. and A. D. 70. The 15th day is a secular festival of doubtful origin.
Aaron’s rod (Bib.), the rod cast by Aaron before Pharaoh, which became a serpent (Ex. vii, 9-15) and which later blossomed (Nums. xvii, 8). A rod with leaves sprouting from it: used as an ornament. A plant that flowers on long stems, as the goldenrod and muillen [sic. mullein].
abacus, A reckoning-table with sliding balls. Arch. A slab forming the top of a capital .
aardvark, A burrowing and ant-eating African mammal, about the size of the pig, with long protrusile tongue and strong, digging fore feet; ground-hog; ant-bear.
abad, Peopled; cultivated. An inhabited place; a city, as in Allahabad (City of God). 

265/270   David: the Biblical account of David appears intermittently throughout “Thanks to the Dictionary.” At 285-290, LZ gives a summary version of the David’s life condensed from the King James version, but elsewhere he imaginatively elaborates details of his own.

266/271   sakkiyeks: a sakkiyek (usually spelled sakiyeh) is a large wheel with earthen jars attached to pick up and empty water for irrigation purposes used in Egypt.

267/272   Joseph Deniker 1852 — French anthropologist…: as identified in LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary: “(1852- ). A French anthropologist and ethnographer.”

268/273   flow: that which flows…: when LZ sent EP some sections of The Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire, the latter complained in a 6 Dec. 1932 that the text did not “flow,” to which LZ responded with this passage (see EP/LZ 137-139).

269/274   sixth tone of the diatonic scale: that is, the musical tone or note of A in the natural diatonic scale of C.

269/274   Le Voyage de M. Perrichon: a 1860 farce by Eugène Labiche and Edouard Martin.

270/276   Clove and clover are on his head…: the following definitions for this section are from LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary (close to clump), see image here:
clove, A dried flower-bud of a tropical evergreen tree of the myrtle family: used as a spice.
clover, Any one of several species of three-leaved plants of the bean family.
cloud, A mass of visible vapor or collection of watery or icy particles floating in the air at various heights; any cloud-like mass.
clough, A sluice for returning water to a channel after the flooding or a field or country.
clown, A coarse or vulgar fellow; boor.
Clotho, Class. Myth. The youngest of the three Fates, holding the distaff and spinning the thread of life: supposed to preside at births.
Indian clubs, bottle-shaped wooden clubs used in gymnastics.
club, A stout stick or staff; cudgel; truncheon.
clump, to place or plant together in a clump. To walk clumsily and noisily; tramp heavily.
clostrophobia, Med. A morbid condition characterized by dread of enclosed spaces.
clothier, One who makes or sells cloths or clothing.
cloven-footed, Having the foot cleft or divided, as cattle
clud, [Scot.] A cluster; crowd; a cloud.
cloudburst, A sudden flood of rain, as if a whole cloud has been discharged at once.
cloudlet, A little cloud.
cloud, Figuratively, something that obscures, darkens, dims, confuses, or threatens. A dimmed appearance; a spot. Law. A defect; blemish; as, a cloud on a title. A great multitude; a cloud-like mass; as, “a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. Xii, 1).
clothe, To cover or provide with clothes; dress.

273/279   Réaumur: as identified in LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary: “Réaumur, René Antoione de (1683-1757). A French physicist; devised Réaumur thermometric scale.” “Réaumur, Relating to Réaumur or to the thermometric scale which he devised in 1731, in which the zero-point corresponds to the temperature of melting ice, and 80° to the temperature of boiling water.”

275/281   The boon companions feast…: for this section (5 paragraphs), the following definitions are taken from LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary (convictism to coost), see image here:
convive, A guest at a feast; boon companion. To feast.
convince, To satisfy by evidence; persuade by argument. One is convinced by argument or evidence addressed to the intellect; he is persuaded by appeals addressed to the affections and the will.
convolve, To turn or wind upon itself. Rolled one part on another or inward from one side.
convolvulus, A twining herb with large showy trumpet-shaped flowers.
convoy, A protecting force accompanying property in course of transportation, as a ship at sea or a military party by land. The property so accompanied, as a ship or fleet at sea or a baggage-train on land.
convolvulaceous, Bot. Designating a family (Convolvulaceae) of gamopetalous, chiefly climbing herbs, shrubs, or trees with alternate leaves and showy flowers—the convolvulus family—embracing about 36 genera.
convulsionary, Ch. Hist. One of a body of Jansenists given to convulsive spasms ascribed to supernatural influence emanating from the tomb of François de Paris (died 1727) at St. Médard.
cony, A rabbit, especially the European rabbit.
coordination, The combination of nervous impulses in motor centers to insure the cooperation of the appropriate muscles in a reaction.
coon-can, Same as CONQUIAN [a card game].
cooky, A small, sweet cake.
cook, To prepare for food by subjecting to the action of heat, as by roasting, boiling, etc.
coom, Refuse matter, as culm, soot, or sawdust.
cooee, cooey, The cry of the Australian aborigines when approaching an encampment, much used in the bush by Australian colonists.
coo, To utter the note of a dove.
coolie, An Oriental laborer or menial.
cool, Self-controlled; self-possessed; apathetic; chilling; slighting.
cooperation, Joint action; profit-sharing. Polit. Econ. A union of laborers or small capitalists for the purpose of advantageously manufacturing, buying, and selling goods, or of pursuing other modes of mutual benefit.
convoke, Syn.: assemble, call, call together, collect, convene, gather, muster, summon. […] Troops are mustered; witnesses and jurymen are summoned.
convocation, Ch. of Eng. An ecclesiastical body similar to a synod, but meeting only at the call of some authority; as, the Convocation of Canterbury.
coordinate, Math. A member of a system of lines or angles by means of which position is determined.
cooper, One whose business it is to make casks, barrels, etc.
coop, to put into a coop; confine. An enclosure for small animals, as fowls or rabbits. [Slang.] A jail; prison.
cool, Art. Suggesting a sense of coolness; said of the colors blue, green, and violet.

276/282   The twelve peers of France…: for this section (two paragraphs), the following definitions are taken from LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary (dout to doyen), see image here:
douzepere, One of the twelve peers of France, celebrated in the Charlemagne romances.
dove, A pigeon; specif., the cushat. A term of affection; any gentle, innocent, loving creature.
dout, To put out; extinguish.
dovetail, A manner of joining boards, timbers, etc., by interlocking wedge-shaped tenons and spaces; also, the joint so made.
dove-cot, dove-cote, A house for tame pigeons: generally, a house-like box set on a pole or on the roof or side of a building.
dowcet, A testicle of a deer.
dowf, [Scot.] Dull; stupid; spiritless; heavy; flat.
dowlas, A strong unbleached linen cloth.
dowry, The property a wife beings to her husband in marriage. Anciently, a reward paid for a wife. Gen. xxxiv, 13.
dowdy, Ill-dressed; ill-fitting, and in bad taste; shabby.
doxology, An exultant hymn or psalm of praise to God, especially to God as triune; as, the greater doxology—Gloria in Excelsis; the lesser doxology—Gloria Patri; the long-meter doxology.
doyen, A dean, as of a diplomatic corps.
dowl, A filament of a blade of a feather; also, down or a fiber of down.
downthrow, The act of throwing down, or the state of being overthrown or prostrated.
downpour, The act of pouring down; a copious and heavy fall, as of rain.
down³, pl. Turf-covered, undulating tracts of upland; as, the South Downs in S. England.
dow², To give up; endow.
downtrodden, Trodden under foot; oppressed.
dovekie, A bird, a little auk (Alle alle), about 7½ inches long, black above, white below, and visiting southerly coasts in winter. The black guillemot (Cepphus grylle).
downcomer, [Prov. Eng.] The pipe which receives the outpourings from the eaves of a roof; leader.
downright, Straight to the point; unequivocal; plain; outspoken.

279/285   And live in those “historical processes” when “twenty years are but as one day…: from 9 April 1863 letter Marx wrote to Engels: “In such great developments twenty years are but as one day—and then may come days which are the concentrated essence of twenty years” (qtd. by Lenin, “Teachings of Karl Marx,” which LZ used in “A”.8.58.14f).

279/285   “the free development of each the condition for the free development of all”: Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, concluding sentence of Part II: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (trans. Samuel Moore).

280/286   They could sing Canticles. Or, they could dispense with, “Lord, now lettest thou”—: the Canticle of Canticles is the Song of Solomon. The quotation is from Luke 2:29-32: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”

281/281   Ulotrichi: the woolly-haired subdivision of the human species (F&W).

282/288   Askja: volcano in Iceland, there was a major eruption in 1875.

284/290   Degrees: referring to the Songs of Degrees, Psalms 120-134, attributed to David. LZ later gathered a group of poems under the title, “Songs of Degrees” (CSP 144-152); see also “A”-12.171.13 and “A”-14.316.11-12.
     LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary give the following definitions for degree: “1. One of a succession of steps, grades, or stages. 2. Relative rank in life; attainment; station. 3. Relative extent, amount, or intensity. 4. One of the three forms in which an adjective or adverb is compared; as, the positive, comparative, and superlative degrees. 5. An academical rank or title conferred by an institution of learning. 6. One remove in the chain of relationship between persons in the line of descent. 7. A subdivision of unit, as in a thermometric scale, the 360th part of a circle, as of longitude or latitude; the 90th part of a right angle; the unit-divisions marked accordingly on various instruments. 8. Alg. The power to which a quantity of number is raised. 9. Arith. In notation, a group of three figures in a number; a period. 10. Mus. A line or space of the staff. 11. A step or stair.”

284/291   Dick, bunting; dicky, bib or a small bird: a dicky is a false front to a blouse or shirt, such as with a tuxedo, as well as meaning a small bird. As a nickname, Dicky designates Richard Chambers or Ricky, who is elegized in “A”-3; the last line of that movement (3.11.2) also makes the connection with a small bird.

284/291   Dates! dates! dates!…: for this paragraph, the following definitions are from LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary (date to day), see image here. It might be relevant to LZ’s opening that there are three entries for “date” on this page, which also has the definition for David, Bib. Son of Jesse; slayer of Goliath; king of Israel; writer of Psalms:
date², An oblong, sweet, fleshy fruit, enclosing a single hard seed.
datto, [P. I.] A chief of a Mohammedan tribe. The headman of a barrio.
date¹, The time of some event; a point of time.
dauphin, dauphin, The eldest son of a king of France; in abeyance since 1830.
dative case, Law. That may be disposed of at will. That may be removed; removable as opposed to perpetual.
dauber, One who or that which daubs; one who paints coarsely or cheaply. A brush to put blacking on shoes; a dabber.
daubery, Daubling. Trickery.
daub, A sticky application. daughter, A female child or descendant.
daughter cell, A cell divided from the mother cell
datum, A known, assumed, or conceded fact; number, quantity, or point: used chiefly in the plural.
D’Avenant, Sir William (1606-1668). An English poet laureate.

284/291   Knowledge is but Sorrow’s spy. The lark takes this window for the east: from poems by Sir William Davenant (or D’Avenant) (1606-1668), poet, playwright, godson of Shakespeare, Poet Laureate and adapter of several of Shakespeare’s plays, including a collaboration with John Dryden on The Tempest. The first line will be picked up again with further quotations from Davenant at the bottom of 290. Davenant appears on the dictionary page from which LZ is working in this paragraph (see preceding), but does not include any quotations from his poetry.
From “To a Mistress Dying”:
Since Knowledge is but Sorrow’s spy,
It is not safe to know.
From “Song”:
The lark now leaves his wat’ry nest,
   And climbing shakes his dewy wings.
He takes this window for the East,
   And to implore your light he sings
Awake, awake! the morn will never rise
Till she can dress her beauty at your eyes.

285/291   He was ruddy, cunning in playing…: through 290 gives an account of David’s life, which is condensed directly from the King James version of I Samuel 16-I Kings 2, plus further details from I Chronicles 3-29 on 290 (from “All the sons of David…Solomon yet young, the work great”).

290/297   Singers with instruments of musick, psalteries…: this and the following sentence from I Chronicles 15:16 and 15:22. A slightly abridged version of these two sentences appeared among the “Other Comments” appended to the original version of “A Statement for Poetry (1950)” (Prep+ 223); the latter qtd. “A”-12.145-22-24.

290/298   Knowledge is but sorrow’s spy…: this paragraph consists entirely of quotations from the poems and songs of Sir William Davenant; see note at 284 where the first and last quotations are identified:
From a song (sung by Viola) from The Law Against Lovers (1673), an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Measure for Measure:
Wake all the dead! What ho! What ho!
How soundly they sleep whose pillows lie low!
They mind not poor lovers who walk above
On the decks of the world in storms of love.
From the poem ”To the Queen”:
You that are more than our discreeter fear
Dares praise, with such full art, what make you here!
Here, where the summer is so little seen,
That leaves, her cheapest wealth, scarce reach at green;
You come, as if the silver planet were
Misled a while from her much injured sphere;
And, t’ease the travels of her beams to-night,
In this small lanthorn would contract her light.

292/299   Turn, turn, the leaf…: for this section to the end, the following definitions are taken from LZ’s Funk & Wagnalls dictionary (voile to voluntary), see image here:
volti, Mus. Turn: a direction to turn the leaf.
volplane, To swoop toward the earth from a height at an angle much greater than the gliding angle.
volant, Passing through the air; flying, or able to fly. Characterized by lightness and quickness. Her. Flying, as a bird or bee.
volcanic glass, same as OBSIDIAN.
volcano, An opening in the earth’s surface surrounded by an accumulation of ejected material, forming a hill or mountain, from which heated matter is or has been ejected: known in the former case as active, and in the latter as dormant or extinct.
volume, A collection of sheets of paper bound together; a book; anciently, a written roll, as of papyrus of vellum. Something of a swelling form; coil; fold or turn. A large quantity; a considerable amount; space occupied, as measured by cubic units, that is, cubic centimetres, cubic feet, etc. The volume of a body is equal to its mass divided by its density, or V = M/D. Math. The amount of space included by the bounding surfaces of a solid. Mus. Fulness or quantity of sound or tone.
volt¹, The unit of electromotive force or difference of potential; that difference of potential which, when steadily applied to a conductor whose resistance is one ohm, will produce a current of one ampere.
voltaic cell (Elec.), a single element of a voltaic battery, consisting usually of a jar containing a liquid in which two metals are immersed.
vole, In some card-games, as écarté, a winning of all the tricks in a deal; hence, the entire range.
volition, Psychol. The faculty of will by which the powers are directed toward the attainment of a chosen end.
voltigeur, One who vaults; a tumbler; in the French army, an infantry rifleman.
volt², In horse-training, a gait in which the horse moves partially sidewise round a center with the head turned out; a circular tread. In fencing, a sudden leap to avoid a thrust.
Volhynian fever, an anomalous five-day fever of eastern Europe.
Volapük, A universal language, invented in 1879 by Johann M. Schleyer (1832- ) of Constance, Baden.
volta, Mus. Turn; time: in phrases.
volumetric, Physics, Of or pertaining to measurement of substances by comparison of volumes.
voix celeste, an organ-stop.