By Catherine Keefe.
A dinner around my childhood home wasn’t complete with at least one round of this fun conversation:
Me: What does _______ mean?
Fill in the blank with words like inertia, relegate, codicil, potable.
Dad: Look it up.
Me: Can’t you just tell me?
Dad: I could, but then you’d forget.
The family dictionary was a frequent guest at the table.
These days, my students, and truthfully even I mostly, use an online dictionary. It’s swift, easy, and direct. Sometimes though I miss the old bound paper word book. There’s something humbling and exhilarating about holding the heft of Webster’s Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary, a volume that weighs in at five pounds and has a spine wider than open palm. When I pull that book down from the shelf to “look it up,” I realize there really is a wealth of words at my fingertips. How few I use. When I look up a word online, I learn one new term, but I can forget that there are thousands more to explore.
It’s funny, when I finally went off to college, I didn’t realize the simple things I’d miss from. But my dad made sure I wouldn’t forget one of the best habits he taught me.
My parent’s going-away gift was my own bright red Random House College Dictionary.
Can you learn one new word today?