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Useless Words with Meaningful Definitions

Sunday October 12, 2008

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

“The formula ‘Two and two make five’ is not without its attractions.”

I have spent my whole life thinking I had an understanding of the English language, thinking that I knew the definitions of many complex words. These words, when used, elevated me to a higher plane; a level of intellect that placed me in the upper echelon. Reading many great books and successfully completing difficult classes made me believe that I had no use for a dictionary; I believed that when I looked at certain words, even foreign words, their meaning would transfer into my brain via osmosis. I’m finding this is not the case, words I thought I knew the meaning of I did not actually know.

In school teachers and professors stressed over and over the importance of understanding a word’s definition. It’s one thing to be able to use a word, but it is a whole other matter to grasp its true meaning. In addition to knowing a definition, one needs to be able to use the word in its proper context. I am by no means implying that I have never made the effort to look up a word’s meaning; rather, I have sought the definition to many words, but taking the time to rigorously incorporate the words into my vocabulary did not happen as a matter of course.

I have been able to assess a word’s meaning contextually rather easily with most books I have read. Recently I had a wake up call while reading Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground” and “The Brothers Karamazov”. As reading these classic works of literature I decided to try something new for a change; I made a decision to look up on dict.org every word that I came across that I did not fully understand. I have been taking the time, no matter how protracted to strive and advance the limits of my vocabulary. The hope is that I will be able to use these new words and the words that I already knew the meaning of more successfully; I have the desire for a more concise vocabulary.

I am in no way enjoying this experience! Although, I feel it’s both necessary and desired in my quest to get my point across better. This task, I’m finding, is long overdue; I feel as though my head has been a cloud, that this mission is grounding me back to earth. Now, useless words have meaningful definitions to me. Every thing and every word in its right place, to call every thing by its right name.


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