Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Dictionary

As our 7 children grew and learned, one of the things that we did with consistency was to have our meals together and sometimes have conversations at the table.  When one of the children would use a word that I thought was used incorrectly or I estimated that they did not know what the word meant I would ask for a definition for the word before they could use it in their conversations.

STOP!  What is the definition of that word?

Frequently they did not know the real definition of the word.  If they did not know the definition of the word or were shy in presenting what they thought was the definition then I would instruct that child to retrieve the dictionary and read the definition aloud to all the family.  As you can see, the dictionary is tattered and worn.  This wear is a direct consequence of the use induced by dad.

I was sometimes not pleased with the definitions in the Collegiate dictionary and would make them reference the unabridged dictionary. There were times that I was at odds with what was in both dictionaries.  English is definitely a living language, where words are added to the dictionary every year.  If you throw in a few acronyms with the moving target of words then things are even more interesting.  There are some words I have objected to the children using in their vocabulary.

SNAFU, FUBAR, and dork are three "words" that were not permitted to be used.  Interestingly, these "words" are used with impunity in daily conversation and I suppose that most people do not know the etymology or meaning of these words. 

Communication is very difficult without having different conceptions of the meanings of a word.  Some words in our vocabulary have changed over time because people used a word to connotate something other than the dictionary definition of the word.  Even the use of euphemisms to blunt the acute nature of a phrase that may be disturbing eventually becomes as acute as the original phrase and destroys the ability of using some words to convey their original meaning.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.  Our visual dictionary is also rather tattered.  Not all of our children have used the visual dictionary like Eric.

Julie, our oldest daughter, was delighted when she received as a gift an Oxford dictionary.  Her dictionary came in a two volume set.  I presume that Julie still uses her dictionaries and that she, and the rest of our family, is more able to communicate accurately because of our tradition of using the dictionary at the dinner table.

What is in your dictionary?

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