ELNA disasters: The Richardson reversed dictionary

Note: To avoid embarrassing individuals, and because it is not important, I have not named some Directors of the Central Office. Also, you will see “@@@@” in certain places where my research into dates or names has not been finished.

The “Richardson Book” (Esperanto: Learning and Using the International Language) was first printed in 1987. For ELNA, the book was a huge success. The first print run of 3000 copies sold out in about two years (@@@@), and a second run of 3000 was printed. (See my report on the project here, Richardson book.)

One of the few complaints about the book was that the brief dictionary included was one-directional, that is, only Esperanto to English. In response, @@@@ @@@@ wrote a program that took the dictionary and produced a file with a reversed version. This was sent to ELNA in 19@@.

Every few years, as ELNA gradually sold off the second print run, I checked with them to see how many copies were left, in order to make sure that the third print run would include the reversed dictionary. Somehow I suspected that the Central Office, already working 60-hour weeks, might forget that this was available. This suspicion was reinforced when the CO replied, at least twice, that they could not find their electronic copy of the reversed dictionary. So I sent them another copy each time.

Eventually the second print run was sold out. At this point the CO (now under new management) took a careful look at the reversed dictionary and declared it unsuitable for use. (Actually, in 2001, the new management first found that a disk error had rendered the file unreadable.) A dictionary, after all, can’t simply be reversed by sorting by the words in the translation; at least for English and Esperanto, there are simply too many words that don’t work that way. For example, “work.” This has at least three major meanings in English; in Esperanto, each meaning has a separate word. These are “funkcii” (as in “the machine works, now that the marselvane has been splitnagled”); “labori” (as in “the guy in cubby 483-B works until midnight, because he is afraid of sunlight”); and “verki” (as in “the finest work this author has yet produced&rdquo).

So the CO began cleaning up the reversed dictionary. I do not know why the CO decided to add this task to its already overloaded work week. Certainly there was no way to accomplish this task, as well as a thousand higher-priority tasks, in any reasonable time. Nor do I see why it is necessarily the CO’s duty to work on a dictionary, instead of some volunteer or a committee of volunteers. But regardless. The best-selling book in ELNA’s catalog, the book we recommend for beginners, perhaps the most important single item we sell... was completely out of print for a year.

Eventually ELNA realized this. One or more volunteers was found to assist with the cleanup, but it still went too slowly. After many more wasted months, the book was finally reprinted and was available March 12, 2004... without a reversed dictionary.

As of August 2005, the reversed dictionary still does not exist.

April 2017: A new edition of Richardson is out, apparently with reversed dictionary. Yay!

[Back to articles page]