thief of time

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Language and Dictionaries

I wonder if it’s just the difference between my son and me, or if it’s a generational difference?

The other day, my son lent me a magazine which I quite enjoyed. In one article, à propos of nothing, there was a little box with a dictionary’s favourite words for 2004. I had a quick look at the list and recognised every word but two.

Now, I’m as lazy as the next person and rarely use a dictionary—I quite understand my son’s aversion to having to look words up, but usually there’s no need because you can figure out a word’s meaning from its context.

You can do the same thing in a foreign language to a large extent. I occasionally see my first year French or Spanish novels and every second word has a neatly pencilled English translation above it. You soon get over that, except in dire circumstances, and just go for the context. (Unfortunately, my Spanish has largely disappeared from lack of use, so now I’d have to go back to the dictionary to get myself back into gear with the language.)

These words in the magazine, however, were merely listed and had no context whatsoever, so I decided to look them up out of interest’s sake. My son couldn’t be bothered.

Obviously I was having the reaction the writers of the article were hoping to get, whereas my son wasn’t playing the game, so I don’t know whether this makes me easily manipulated, but it certainly made me annoyed with him. Of course, I’m the person who would often be his personal dictionary when he was growing up, so I guess I only have myself to blame.

I’ll have to take a stand for intellectual integrity and curiosity and force him to look things up from now on, not just hand him a word on a plate—though of course, it does take away the moral superiority you exhibit when you’re able to exclaim—“What? Fancy not knowing that word!”

* * *

[By the way, the words were defenestration and callipygian, which I probably won’t be using in conversation any time soon, though obviously, as an old French student, I should have been ashamed of myself for missing one of them.]


Post a Comment

<< Home