As It Happens

Californian creates short stories made up entirely of dictionary example sentences

When Jez Burrows reads example sentences in dictionaries, he feels inspired. He has started a blog where he posts short stories made up entirely of sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary. It's called Dictionary Stories. 
Jez Burrows is writing short stories made up entirely of dictionary example sentences. (Submitted by Jaz Burrows, Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

This story was originally published Sept. 9, 2015.


When you look up a word in the dictionary, you'll find its definition, of course.

And, depending on the dictionary, you might also find an example of how that word is used in a sentence. The sentence is often intended as a helpful exercise in understanding context. But, it's also sometimes surprisingly poetic.

When Jez Burrows reads example sentences, he feels inspired. He has started a blog where he posts short stories made up entirely of sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary. It's called Dictionary Stories

Burrows came up with the idea when he was looking up a definition for the word "study."

"The example sentence that was given for that word in the dictionary was just incredibly melodramatic and seemed out of place," he told As it Happens host Carol Off. 

"It really jumped out at me. It seemed like a piece of fiction that had gotten lost and ended up in the dictionary."

The example sentence: "He perched on the edge of the bed a study of confusion and misery."

Since reading that sentence, Burrows has been posting short stories on his blog. He put up his first one in mid-August and has since posted fourteen stories. 

"It's a lot of trolling through the dictionary blindly and cherry picking sentences that seem interesting or ones that might have some sort of narrative weight," he said.

Burrows says there are some sentences, however, that he doesn't think he'll ever be able to use in his stories. 

For the word "pebbles," the example sentences is: "If you think you've got it bad now, how would you like to be paid to collect pebbles."

Or, for the word "heavily," it reads: "The country is heavily dependent on banana exports."  

But, for Burrows, one of the most ridiculous phrase he has found so far is, "Gallons of fake blood." 

"You could have picked water. You could have literally picked anything," he says. "But, the lexicographers behind that thought that ... was the best."

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