So you know I was in the Big Apple recently, up to my elbows in yellowed pages and musty memories.
One of the diaries I read contained a section that captured my fancy. This diarist made a list of words she’d looked up (and their meanings) and words she particularly liked. Though I’m not as disciplined, I do keep running lists (on slips of papers I tend to lose) of unfamiliar words.
Here are some words I’ve had to look up lately:
It’s always surprising to me when I think I know the meaning of a word, but the dictionary will show me a subtle shading that I hadn’t thought about. Case in point — I thought “jitney” could be interchangeable with any kind of transporting vehicle but it turns out it refers to a vehicle in which one pays to ride.
The other way I love to use a dictionary, most particularly the Oxford English Dictionary, is to find out when a word was first used. Though I adore my two musty volumes with their eye-straining tiny print, I find myself most often using the Seattle Public Library’s OED database (you need a library card to use this). It’s quick and I love the surprises — for example, the word “waterwings”(the inflatable kind) was used starting in the early 1900’s. Once, while attending the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, Neil and I were surprised to hear one of the actors utter the word, “faucet,” thinking it utterly modern. A quick check in the OED revealed the word’s been used since the 1400’s.
How often do you look up words? Are you a desk dictionary user or desktop dictionary user? I’d love to know. And please share any favorite words you have. I’ve always been partial to “capricious.”