As I write this blog post, it is Dictionary Day (October 16). Now, as a writer, I love both words and dictionaries, as well as the magical ways in which words can be sequenced to convey meaning, tone, and point of view. I could have just said syntax, but that word doesn’t pack the weight I was looking for when it stands around by itself.
I know I have written about my love of words previously. But on Dictionary Day, via social media, The Mailbox invited teachers to tell us if they thought dictionary skills were still essential for students in this era of technology ascendance. The answer from teachers about dictionary skills was a resounding yes. I was relieved as well as reassured.
I love dictionaries. My favorite one I claimed as my own as soon as I could write my name on it. It had lived in my oldest brother’s room. Small, unassuming, kept in a cardboard dustcover, it’s really nothing special. It probably dates to the early 1960s. It smells unlike any other book I own, and when I open it, I am instantly transported to that quiet bedroom on Fox Hill Road in 1973. When I was very young and just beginning to read, I used that dictionary like Lewis and Clark used the Missouri River. It was my pathway into the great unknown, where I could discover so much by tracing my way from one word to another, through streams of antonyms, past outcroppings of synonyms, to ever more lovely vistas of alternative definitions and examples of usage.
A few years later, my uncle introduced me to the concept of a good dictionary as the greatest book in the world. It contained all the other books, he said. At that point, I could understand how it not only contained all the books, but contained all the learning of our world as well. And the history of our language!
At this point, I am not going to declaim my preference when it comes to the battle of paper versus electronic dictionary. I will say that I think the journey through the paper pages of a heavy dictionary yields far greater intrigue and reward. As long as a reader considers the dictionary a journey to knowledge, however, I’m happy.
Tell us your ideas for encouraging students to embrace the dictionary. Or share your favorite dictionary story. Heck, why not share your favorite “big” word!