Randictionary

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Dictionaries are a very special kind of book. They are built as repositories of the full spectrum of human speech, zealous reporters of all meaning we assign to our world. They appear as powerful figures in our bookshelves, almost freightening, as no one who buys them will fully read them, but can just ask for specific advice and pick few definitions here and there, as needed.

Dictionaries appear to have three defining traits: association, exhaustiveness, order. All words in a language are gathered and listed alphabetically. Their definitions are carefully drafted to include all possible meanings, with precision reaching scientific rigor.

Randomness may appear as the very opposite of what dictionaries stand for. The random looks like the antipode of a dictionary, its archenemy. In its unpredictable form, in its despicable state of chaos, randomness appears meaningless for the most, or, better, yet to be shaped into actual meaning once structured and brought to order.

The Randictionary puts dictionaries and randomness together, by mixing up all definitions at random inside a dictionary. It is parody of the ordered, laughter to the systematized. It takes the single most structured tool we have created in written form and brings it to the absurd. It shows how easy it is to render a majestic job of collection completely vain just by shuffling it. It makes it apparent that a dictionary, while appearing so strong and untouchable from the outside, is actually very fragile, as all of this content loses sense with few basic movements. An unordered dictionary is as useless as no dictionary at all.

However, randomness is not just absurdity and parody. It encompasses an unconventional richness of meaning, far too often overseen in the name of order and clarity. Its unpredictability and its defiant lack of structure are pure, pleasant surprise and often source of inspiration and creativity. Ideas are often born bringing together two seemingly random, unassociated concepts and trying to fit them together. The Randictionary shows one of the possible versions of this stochastic process. As the structured meaning finds concretion in a traditional dictionary, the random meaning, which so far lacked of a visible way to be expressed, has maybe found it in the Randictionary.

Finally, the Randictionary shows how dictionaries fail at their job of being exhaustive, the trait they are most proud of. In maths, Cantor’s diagonal argument demonstrates that it is impossible to match in a one-to-one correspondence an uncountable infinite (e.g. real numbers) to a countable one (e.g. natural numbers). His argument goes that if we did manage to create a full list of all real numbers, we could swap one digit diagonally in each of the items of the list and, by definition, find a number which is different from all the ones we have listed, proving by contradiction that real numbers are an uncountable infinity.

I believe that the Randictionary proves this same type of incompleteness in trying to list all meaning in our world in our dictionaries (the hubris!). Once they have reached a ‘complete’ list of all words and definitions, as modern dictionaries inherently claim, you can still mix up all definitions at random and you will have a new association of words and meanings. New patterns, combinations, ideas are created by chance where none was there before, going beyond the supposed exhaustiveness of the original and demonstrating its incompleteness and the uncountable infinity of meaning.

Enjoy.

– Carlo Varrasi

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