Day 2 of the Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2016 and we want to know : Who uses a dictionary any more? Do you? I know I do. I just used one to cross check if this title should use ‘anymore’ or ‘any more’! I learnt (or is it learned?) that ‘any more’, as an adverb (the way I’ve used it), can be written as one word in American English.
Recently, at an airport lounge, I was pleasantly surprised to see a gentleman in a business suit, taking out a dictionary from his bag along with a paperback. Curious me, had to find out what he was reading. No prizes for guessing. It was a book by Shashi Tharoor!
Who Uses A Dictionary Any More?
I was told by some parents in India, that every year, their school going children have to buy a dictionary as part of the prescribed list of books. I can see the value of updating dictionaries regularly because the English language is so dynamic. But, I’m wondering if teachers really spend time showing children how to get the most of out of a dictionary.
While I’m not a grammar Nazi, some blog posts and e-books really make me cringe. I find people using words in the wrong context, misspelling words and sometimes taking the liberty of making words up!
When did we become so lazy? Isn’t it arrogant not to crosscheck the writing we put out? I’m all for creativity and communicative English, but being correct has some value too. It shows respect to your readers!
I don’t know exactly why dictionaries went out of fashion but I’d bet money that it was due to pressure by the “don’t be shackled by correctness, creativity is all that counts” brigade. I never understood why you can’t be correct and creative at the same time but I’ll stay at the bottom of the trench until that argument is over. My suggestion is that you become a closet dictionary user. It’s still legal and completely harmless. If you fear discovery, you can cover your dictionary in brown paper or pretend you just keep it to prop the door open, or say it was a present from Granny. Whatever you do, use the dictionary if in doubt. If the idea of owning an actual paper dictionary makes you too nervous, you can find one online. Never take a chance and assume you know the meaning of a word just from the context in which you heard it used. – Elaine Currie, BA(Hons)
How to use your dictionary effectively
As an English language trainer, I was always surprised at how many people have absolutely no clue of how to make good use of a dictionary. I loved handing out dictionaries to the trainees and had several exercises that forced them to find answers in the dictionary. It’s simple things like finding out the difference between phrases. For example, I notice that most Indian speakers and writers of English don’t really know when to use ‘few’ or ‘a few’.
Few means “not many (people or things).” It is used to say that there are not a lot of people or things. A few means “some (people or things).” It is used to say that there are a small number of people or things. Below are some examples showing how each is used.
I have a few [=some/a small number of] friends.
I have few friends. [=I do not have many friends]
– via Learner’s Dictionary
While I’m sure you’ve been using a dictionary for ages, I just thought I’d share a few tips.
Getting to know your dictionary
The best way to learn how to use your particular dictionary effectively is to read its introductory section where you’ll find out how the entries are arranged. The introductory section of your dictionary will explain important information such as the abbreviations and pronunciation symbols used throughout the entries.
This might make all the difference in your usage of a word and its pronunciation.
Looking up a word and making the most of it.
When you come across a word you donʼt recognize or know the meaning of, keep a note of it. Then look it up in the dictionary.
Once youʼve located the word, there are several useful elements that you can discover about the word from the dictionary entry. Read the information given about this entry, and depending on your dictionary, you might find many things:
- A definition of the word.
- One or more pronunciations. Look for a pronunciation key near the beginning of the dictionary to help you interpret the written pronunciation. Learn how to use the stress marks, as these will aid your pronunciation. The stress mark ʼ is place just prior to the syllable where the stress is placed.
- Capitalization, where relevant.
- Prepositions and their use with the word in question.
- Irregular endings for verbs.
- Synonyms and antonyms. You can use these in your writing, or as further clues towards the wordʼs meaning.
- An etymology, derivation, or history of the word. Even if you donʼt know Latin or Ancient Greek, you may find that this information helps you to remember or understand the word.
- Examples or citations of how the word is used. Use these to add context to the meaning of the word.
- Derived terms and inflections (I am, you are, etc).
- Phrases or idioms associated with the word, and slang usage. In addition, the dictionary may explain whether a word is formal or informal.
- Plurals of nouns.
- Near neighbor words that might be related.
- Spellings in other English (US English, British English, Australian English, etc.)
Try using the word
Once you’ve learnt the meaning of the word and how to use it in the proper context, try using the word. Only with usage does it become a part of your vocabulary.
Play dictionary games
There are several games you’ll find online that involve using a dictionary. You could also open the dictionary to a random page and find a new word to learn.
With the advent of online dictionaries, we’ve lost the fine art of looking for words in a paper dictionary. While I love the easy access to online dictionaries, I still prefer to refer to an old fashioned one. I use the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary because it packs in so much more information.
Do you use a dictionary regularly? Which do you prefer – a hard copy or an online one?
Day 2 – Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2018
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