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Dictionaries Are Awesome

dictionaries are awesome - Carolyn Daughters -

Dictionaries are awesome. Really, they are. Anytime someone gifts me with a thesaurus or book of word origins, I think to myself, you get me. You really get me.

Now, anarcho-primitivism and antiphon aren’t common words. Nonetheless, I happen to know both of these words. But then I happen to know lots of words. Some of the words I know may not be in your vocabulary. At the same time, some of the words you know are definitely not in my vocabulary. And I’m okay with that.

See, if I wanted to stay exactly as smart (or as stupid) as I am right now, I’d surround myself with people, books, and ideas that can teach me nothing and that don’t challenge me in any way. But, thing is, I’m going for smarter. Less stupid.

Now at times I use words like anarcho-primitivism and antiphon in my fiction, and some readers may not know what these words mean. Some have suggested that I define any and all words that readers may not know.

Let’s try it out. Here’s a brief excerpt from my novel:

“Perhaps there is meaning in all things. Maybe schizophrenia made Ted Kaczynski a sociopath. Maybe sociopathology made him an anarcho-primitivist. Maybe anarcho-primitivism made him a killer.”

Several people have asked me to define sociopath(ology) and anarcho-primitivism. Some suggested that I also define schizophrenia. (And who in the world is Ted Kaczynski, some have asked.) When I respond by saying that dictionaries are awesome, I am often met with great resistance. It turns out that not everyone loves dictionaries the way I do.

So let’s add in some definitions. Edited, the excerpt might look something like this:

“Perhaps there is meaning in all things. Maybe schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder characterized by emotional blunting, intellectual deterioration, social isolation, disorganized speech and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations, made Ted Kaczynski a sociopath, a person whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. Maybe sociopathology, the science of the previously mentioned disorder, made him an anarcho-primitivist, which is a person who critiques the origins and progress of civilization. Maybe anarcho-primitivism made him a killer.”


Now let’s assume some readers don’t know what emotional bluntingintellectual deteriorationsocial isolationdelusionshallucinations, and antisocial mean. I should probably define these words too, right?

Here’s another excerpt from my novel: “I could almost hear an antiphon, the priest chanting, the parishioners answering, arms outstretched.”

Define “antiphon,” several readers have demanded.

Here’s the rewritten line: “I could almost hear an antiphon — a psalm, hymn, or prayer sung in alternate parts as a prelude or conclusion to some part of a religious service — the priest chanting, the parishioners answering, arms outstretched.”

The rhythm and flow are disrupted. The poetry’s shot. And for what? So I can attempt to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator. Trouble is, the lowest common denominator won’t be satisfied with the above definition of antiphon. What’s a psalm? A prelude? It’s a slippery slope.

Every once in a while you’re going to need to use a dictionary (online or old school) when you read my fiction. You may learn something, which may turn out to be just fine because dictionaries are awesome. And every once in a while (actually, probably quite often) you’ll use a word I don’t know. You’ll get me thinking, teach me something, or show me another way of looking at a situation or topic. And that, too, will be fine, as dictionaries are awesome.

You’ll help make me a little less stupid than I was before. Thank you in advance for that.

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