the first time I was wrong still might be okay

When I was twelve I got into my first knockdown fight over the definition of a word. This happens to writers often. I lost. It pissed me off so much that I started to read the dictionary at night in case I was wrong about other words. I’ve won or drawn every single dictionary argument since then.

I lost the first one because of New Mexico regional dialect and though I was wrong, frankly, I think I was right. I’m writing this because I would like the people who write dictionaries to get it straight and put another little entry under the word couple in their books. Maybe it’s definition 22 and it can even say regional underneath it but I think it belongs in the dictionary. I’d like to see my one and only defeat turned to a draw. That’s what I’m after.

The argument was with a New York girl so she couldn’t see it my way. Usage is the only real guide to vocabulary. It wasn’t my personal usage or my family’s or my friends’ or even my school’s. Everyone in New Mexico uses this word this way. The word couple does not mean two in New Mexico. It means exactly the same as few. If a New Mexican says, “A couple,” what they mean is 3–6. Never 2. This should be reflected in the dictionary even though many books about New Mexico (atlases, animal guides, histories of politics) are wrong and won’t be fixed. I have a personal stake in this one.

The most ironic part is that if people are dating in my hometown of Taos and someone talks about, “The couple,” they mean there are in fact 1–4 other people involved in the couple. Until they fix the dictionary, people who move to New Mexico may experience a lot of personal anguish over this semantic discrepancy.

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