Crazy Idea No. 11: Dictionary Quests

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Call me crazy, but I love dictionaries! And thesauruses, too. Why, you may ask? I LOVE words and their meanings, history and usage. I own several volumes of dictionaries from unabridged to a pocket versions, and I visit m-w.com quite often.

When I went back to college, in my forties, I needed a foreign language for my English degree. I started with French at the community college, but was delighted when I transferred to UM_St. Louis that they offered Latin. To learn prefixes and root words changed the way I interacted with words. When I read a word that used to be a common English word to me, like manufacture, I, now, recognize it’s Latin roots. “Manu” means hands and “facture” comes from the Latin verb “facere,” meaning to make. So to manufacture something means to make with hands. Of course, the industry evolved into using machines to make things, but it makes me happy to know that I can still manufacture things, i.e. make them with my hands. Like writing this blog post or playing around with my art supplies.

Some of my most clarifying moments in my journal, have been when I go on a “definition quest.” If a word catches my attention, I look up it’s meaning. For instance, let’s look at purpose. Here’s what I found on the merriam-webster website:

Definition of purpose

1 a :something set up as an object or end to be attained :intention
2 :a subject under discussion or an action in course of execution
on purpose

:by intent :intentionally

(Before the internet, I would look up the word in the dictionary. While turning pages the quest became richer by the potential of a side trip with another word, which might catch my attention, but with the internet you can quest by clicking.)

I still record my findings in my journal, because I like to notice any associations or repeated words, as I write them down. So for this quest, my next step might be to click on intention because it caught my attention. (And then my Latin knowledge kicks in, aha! Two words in that last sentence have the root word “tenere,” which means to hold. You see how this adventure could keep going and going.)

Next, my intuition would lead me to ponder the word “hold” for awhile. I would wonder what hold has to do with the word purpose. Then my playful spirit would make up questions like: What hold does purpose have on me? And what does my purpose hold in store for me? After writing these things down, I would look up the definition of hold. You get the idea. And I haven’t even started thinking about synonyms to purpose or intention or hold yet!

So here’s a crazy idea, if you still have a print dictionary around your place, why not take it out for a spin? Peruse it’s pages, while jotting notes in a journal or on a piece of paper. Pay attention to what you notice, how the pages feel, and what archaic or obsolete words catch your eye.

How does it feel to hold a dictionary in your hands? Have you ever gone on a definition quest? What was it like? What’s your favorite way to interact with words?

Gracious words are a honeycomb,
    sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24 NIV)

2 thoughts on “Crazy Idea No. 11: Dictionary Quests

  1. Fellow word geek, here: loving this post. Wish I’d taken Latin in high school. Perhaps in retirement . . . Meanwhile, I’m eyeballing my Webster’s, shelved 18″ from where I write, realizing (thanks to you!) a manual “spin” is long overdue. I too love m-w.com and the various synonym sites and rabbit trails. Gonna pull out the book right now, because I’ve been wondering more about “elan vital” since yesterday’s online search for definition. First thing I notice: the incomparable smell of yellowed pages (copyright 1985). Elan (sorry, accent on e is missing): “Dash; impetuous ardor” . . . tucked between elaborate and eland (African antelope with spiral horns). Which begs to be put in a poem . . . 🙂

    1. Laurie- You would love Latin! Thanks for letting me share in your arm charm spin of the dictionary today…it’s great to share a word together…ahhh, yes, the smell of yellowed pages. I look forward to reading your poem some day, if perchance it makes it to your blog 😉

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