Please Consult Your Dictionary…

I have spent junior school and most of my middle school years listening to this phrase. It was always lurking in my classroom in obscure places – beneath the duster, inside the bookshelf, behind the blackboard- and once in a while, whenever I had questions like “What is the meaning of this word?” or “How do we pronounce this word?” or “Does this word exist?”, it would manifest out of nowhere right onto my teacher’s lips. This was our English teacher’s answer to most of the questions we had. She kept reminding us of the importance of a dictionary and how one must never miss a single opportunity to consult it so much so that there came a point in my life, sometime during my junior school years, when I was convinced that consulting a dictionary was as important as consulting a physician before swallowing a pill or consulting the family priest before tying the nuptial knot. She made us do it over and over again. Whenever we encountered a new word staring at us from the pages of Onward English* we would grab our dictionaries and run our index fingers vertically over the printed text instead of horizontally for a change.

My junior school English teacher was one of her kind and her deep love for The Oxford English Dictionary was pretty well known. She was a vehement supporter of the do-not-carry-heavy-bags-to-school philosophy but that did not exempt us from carrying this 400 gm mass in our school bags everyday. It had to be with us during the school hours. Punitive actions were taken against defaulters who were subjected to public humiliation. Of course, I am talking about a time when standing outside the classroom with hands behind one’s back and head hung in shame was considered humiliating unlike college days when such incidents created a rage on Facebook and the defaulter was lauded by all and sundry.

We, as students, were expected to be adept at looking up a word in the dictionary. Very often our teacher conducted drills wherein she scribbled a word on the blackboard and challenged us to find its meaning in the minimum possible time. And then, all hell would break loose in our class. Students would dive into their bags, fish out a copy of the dictionary, turn over the pages frantically and start searching the aforementioned word like a treasure hunter looking for gold. The winner was generally awarded a Kismi Bar or one of other such sweet delights.

I have spent many an evening alternating between the Famous Five books and my Oxford English Dictionary. I usually snapped it shut after reading the meaning although my mother always insisted that I read further to learn about the word’s pronunciation, alternate forms, usage etc. Sometimes I took her advice, most of the times I did not.

Somewhere down the line, when the dot com bomb exploded and caught everyone and everything in its flames, a “.com” was placed in front of our beloved dictionary as well. The diving-into-our-bags, flipping-over-the-pages and running-our-fingers-vertically got replaced by enter-the-URL, type-the-word and click. These days I come across very few people of my age who still use the their dictionaries regularly. I know for a fact that I don’t. Almost all the text editors come with an inbuilt digital dictionary and thesaurus thereby obviating the need to seek assistance of their physical counterparts. School going children might use it in school but they rarely use one at home. I encourage my younger brother time and again to use it as much as possible. Even in this age when infants are born tech savvy I feel looking up a word in the dictionary is a skill we must all know. Although considered a bit cumbersome by Gen Z, I think it has its own charm.

A few weeks back, as I was digging through a pile of crap in a cardboard box to find a pair of old spectacles, I stumbled upon an old dictionary of mine, one which had accompanied me to school every single day. It still had a brown laminated cover with a Donald Duck label stuck on it. The curling edges, the about-to-become-yellow pages and the lovely old-book smell which we adore so much transported me to my school days. Somehow, while I was shifting from my old house into the new one it landed up in that cardboard box. Sadly its absence from my bookshelf went unnoticed.

This dictionary now has a space for itself on my bookshelf. I know I won’t be using it much but it’s always nice to have one looking at you all the time.   🙂

So, what about you? When was the last time you consulted your dictionary?

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* My English text book in junior school if I remember correctly   🙂

Note: The word dictionary in this post implies a physical dictionary unless otherwise stated.

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22 responses to “Please Consult Your Dictionary…”

  1. Destination Infinity says :

    GOOGLE is the NEW dictionary. Of course all our teachers encouraged us to consult dictionaries except one. This teacher told us that the vocabulary we knew was sufficient and we should try to guess the words as we were reading. When we encounter a word for a considerable number of times, our mind would automatically register that word. For the lazy me, this seemed to be excellent advice and I have been following it till now 🙂

    But one day I stumbled upon Arundhati Roy’s novel – The one which won some booky prize. My, I couldn’t understand 10-15 words in each page!! 🙂 And more recently when I was summarizing a medial journal article – Couldn’t make (till I completed it) what it was about! In such cases, we need to use the dictionary or perhaps GOOGLE. Dictionaries have their charm, as long as we don’t have to carry them.

    Destination Infinity

    • Chhavi says :

      Google is fast becoming the new dictionary, DI. Some writers use a lot of fancy words and it does make the reading a bit difficult but learning new words is fascinating. And now we have Google and dictionary.com to make our task simpler.

  2. maverickshree says :

    I don’t remember when was the last time I used my physical copy of the dictionary. I remember my English teacher in school was very strict, n particular about certain pronunciations and we were require to carry dictionary with us .

  3. ajay says :

    I use my dictionary occasionally and prefer it to looking up on the internet, now that Google has suspended its dictionary service. I have a special bond with my dictionary which I’ve been using since school. When I get bored or have got nothing to do, I pick up my dictionary, turn to any random page and start reading it. 😀 My friends find it a very odd and boring habit.

    • Chhavi says :

      It’s a great habit, Ajay. I wish I could do the same. It might seem boring and weird to people but I can totally understand your liking for it 🙂

  4. Chatterbox says :

    I was nodding my head all through your post 😀
    I too used to religiously carry a dictionary to school and tried to look up every new word I’d come across. But now, it’s Google for me too 😀 😀

  5. Punam J R says :

    Yes, Chhavi.. u sent me into my ‘dictionary’ days too!! U know how I used to make use of that 5-pound mass??? I would sit every morning, with my legs crossed on the sofa, the dictionary open in my lap to a random page, and the cross word section of the newspaper over it. he he he – i would literally solve the crossword, and then, my English teacher would say, learn one word a day, so we would do that – find meanings of words from the dictionary and write them down.. on the last page of our notebooks – then, u know… our English textbooks had every second word underlined, with its dictionary meaning written on top of it with pencil – it was amazing.. I loved it. 🙂 I miss those days…

    • Chhavi says :

      I am so glad that you were reminded of your “Dictionary Days”, Poonam. It’s a great way to start the day. I wish I had done that when I was little. My vocab would have been much better now. 🙂 🙂

      • Punam says :

        Chhaviiiiiiiiiiii!!! IF you call this vocab of yours mundane, where do we mortals stand, baba.. I SOOOO envy your vocabulary and to think .. its me who is the content writer.. i can’t write half as good as you!!!

  6. madeleine sara says :

    Always and often I love my dictionaries and thesaurus. I also have a rhyming dictionary. See: http://scribbleandedit.blogspot.com/2010/08/with-due-reference.html

    Thought provoking question. :O)

    • Chhavi says :

      I have never used a rhyming dictionary, Madeleine. It’ll be very helpful for me as I love writing poems. I’ll definitely have a look at your collection.

      I just want people to think about the last time they used their dictionaries. Hence the question. 😀 😀 It might bring a smile their faces.

  7. Pixie says :

    Even though i use the Internet more often to check the righht usage of a word, I still keep my Dictionary handy when I’m reading a book and need to look up a word!

    I connect more with the dictionary and remember much better as well…

    • Chhavi says :

      It’s good that you still use your dictionary often, Pixie. I hardly use mine. I can understand why you connect more with your dictionary. 🙂 🙂

  8. vinithasaira says :

    hey chhavi,

    loved ur post! it brought back such lovely memories of school , the english teacher and the game called “blockbuster” we used to play 🙂 i m so glad i got to read this post! 🙂

  9. Deboshree says :

    What a post Chhavi! 🙂
    I for one am an avid dictionary user. I need to get a new one as the Oxford I have isn’t updated with the new additions to the language. When I am working, I have that nice little Wordweb widget which keeps asking me if I need a flight.
    Dictionaries are great… I have to thank my English teacher for my interest in the hardcover as he taught me phonetics when I was in school. I agree about the feel-good factor – having a dictionary smiling at you from a bookshelf. Bliss. 😛

    • Chhavi says :

      Bliss indeed!!! A fat little dictionary smiling at you each time you cross the bookshelf. It kinda reminds me that there are so many words waiting to be read, learnt and used 🙂

  10. Ram Pyaari says :

    dictionary! my god …i dont know when i consulted it last! i dont even own one now!

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