The 1st Dictionary With Attitude

2020-07-20 update: the dinguses at Viacom have shuttered garfield dot com; I had to update a footnote to reflect this.
2023-12-09 update: This product no longer exists, almost certainly because of the shit-suckers at Viacom. I had to remove a link because of this, and some other links were dead too. Footnotes should reflect where links were previously.

A sort of running theme with Paws, Inc. over the years has been licensing Garfield assets to any and every taker and seeing what sticks. Browsing merch prototypes from Paws HQ on eBay shows an incredible variety of oft-freakish attempts at materializing Garf into our 3-dimensional world. StickerYou has a bunch of Garf assets available for making custom stickers. For some reason, a Canadian restaurant exists that sells pizza approximately in the shape of Garf’s head1. Jim Davis is known for his support of education, which has led to collaborations like Garf assets in an educational 3D programming environment. It sort of comes as no surprise, then, that Paws, Inc. teamed up with Merriam-Webster to create The Merriam-Webster and Garfield Dictionary2.

Physically, the dictionary is compact-sized and lacks thumb indices. It comes in paperback and library-bound editions. It runs 816 pages, including all of the supplementary material. Textually, it largely reads like a nermal3 Merriam-Webster dictionary. It has a how-to-use section including a pronunciation guide, the dictionary itself, sections on names of places, people, mythological figures, &c., a style guide, and a list of sources. I’m unable to tell what pre-existing edition of the Merriam-Webster this is based on, but it is definitely pared down a bit to be more ‘family-friendly’: there are no swear words, giggly words like ‘butt’ and ‘poop’ lack their giggly definitions, but sexual anatomic terms like ‘penis’ and ‘anus’ are present as are non-slangy terms for sexual acts like ‘masturbation’ and ‘cunnilingus.’ It also contains typical charts like a table of the elements, and various illustrations.

There are two things that Garf up this dictionary. First, nearly every page has one definition in a callout box with Garf pointing to the definition. On the same page, there will be a Garfield strip that uses that word in some capacity. This continues through the section of names, locations, &c. The preface tells us that these strips were ‘specially chosen by Merriam-Webster editors,’ and it absolutely makes sense to me that some dictionary randos did this rather than anyone well-versed in the world of Garf. Abu Dhabi would be an obvious choice for a strip, yet that page contains no strip at all. This strip in which Jon tells Garfield his picture is in the dictionary next to the word ‘lazy’ is, in fact in the dictionary… to illustrate the word ‘session.’ There are a handful of these little things that would’ve really made for some cute in-jokes, but alas. The other Garfy bit is ‘Garfield’s Daffy Definitions,’ a three-page supplement at the end wherein words like ‘Arbuckle,’ ‘cat,’ ‘diet,’ ‘lasagna,’ ‘Odie,’ and ‘Pooky’ are defined by Garf himself. The section also includes definitions that serve as weird digs at school and teachers, presumably to make the kids feel empowered.

And that’s it, that’s The Garfield and Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It’s a perfectly useful, reasonable dictionary that would serve the average needs of adults as well as children, just… with Garfield. So why am I even talking about it? Part of it is certainly just one of the more interesting Garfield-related objects that I own, and despite being a mashup of two big brands… nobody seems to know about it. Every time I mention it, folks either think I’m joking or simply ask… why. In that sense, I think it’s an interesting object worth making known. In a sense that is a bit more dear to me… I’m worried about the fate of a lot of these odd Garf collabs now that Viacom owns Paws, Inc. There have already been some damning changes in the world of Paws; notably, U.S. Acres, another Jim Davis strip4 and one which has never been printed in its entirety in book form, was recently removed from GoComics5. This may have been in the cards before the acquisition, it may be entirely on Andrews McMeel, but… it feels like things are changing. And I can’t imagine the capitalist clowns at Viacom6 leaving all of these bizarre collaborations intact. If The Garfield and Merriam-Webster Dictonary goes out of print… will anyone even notice? Will anyone care7? It won’t be the end of the world, certainly, but… I do feel some sort of obligation to talk about and document some of these oddities. And if anyone out there was looking for a new dictionary, well… you just got one more option.

This is not crazy

Content warning: ableism.

A lot of inexplicable, or at least difficult-to-comprehend things have been happening in the world lately. My various social circles are comprised of folks in various states of befuddlement lately, and the news does not cease to surprise and disgust. Things are so far beyond reason, so infuriating, so mystifying that it can be hard to expound upon the resultant emotions and articulate them cleanly. Often, things feel nothing short of crazy, like the world has lost all sanity.

There’s a problem with this. When I was younger, it was trendy to describe the inexplicable and foolish as (apologies) retarded. Even without judging rationality or logic, the word was a simple stand-in for basic denigration. Some time around high school, it would become clear to us what we were actually saying, what the implications were. Then we had a decision to make – do we live with those implications out of some lazy dedication to our extant lexicon, or do we grow and find better and less actively harmful ways to express ourselves? Can we find the empathy to recognize how dehumanizing it is to use our differences as terms of denigration.

"Everything we assumed about how people use the dictionary was wrong." (external)

Great article over at WaPo by Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper. M-W’s live updates about trending searches during this year’s debates have provided an enjoyable (and necessary) bit of levity for me. Even beyond the debates, their social media presence provides continuous insight into the humanity behind our language.