The tragedy of not knowing a word’s meaning

Words and dictionaries. It is like worlds and dictionaries.

  

The Story of Snafu

 
The most imminent characteristic of technologically disabled people? Refusal to start using T9 prediction. As a Guardian of Grammar, typing text messages without the handy prediction was wrist-phagous for Koopy. But what does she hear? There was this new thing that could help you type texts faster, and your wrists get to live too!
 
Koopy was wary of switching over to the other side. After all, she did not know how this new power worked. But a comrade called Sherie (Cherry yo) assured her it was safe. With trembling fingers she dared to activate this power on her cellphone, but it would not permit her to type anything when she first tried.
 
‘Could be it that it refuses to take to me nicely? Was there some ritual of passage I ignorantly stepped on?’
 
 Koopy tried typing a word and presses the same key twice. The power asked her with a question mark, what she wanted the holy screen to reflect.
 
Helpless Koopy, she did not know the language inn which this power spoke, till random button pressing led her to snafu.
 
Now to Koopy, it sounded like a funky pink elephant with a purple belly and a green snout. But guess what the dictionary told her.
 
 
 snafu
I am a hungry reader. That by no means says anything about the number of books I finish every week, but I devour titles. In another ‘verse where my bibliophagous shoulders would be be free of the weight of copying lab assignments and missing the first lecture every morning, it is safe to conclude that I would have entered a trance-like state no different than your average baba with dreadlocks on mountaintops and buried alive underground.
When I enter the precincts of an author’s creation, it feels a crime to step right back and obey a pearl of wisdom (such a cliche, I know right?) from my primary school English teacher, the jolliest I know till today: always keep a dictionary with you, learn new words, use them in a sentence.
So I do the second thing I do best: guess meanings. Context and content are pretty much the primers I need to figure them out. Except when someone miraculously happens to ask that same word’s meaning, I can feeeel the word in my brains, I could even construct a sentence to drive things home but I fail at articulation.
How often do you refer to a dictionary?
I have a desktop program for a dictionary that I have pinned to my start menu. But things weren’t always so; sigh, my Oxford box set is divided between home and dormitory, eating dust while I type fancy letters into my dictionary program. I wonder if it misses me leafing through its leaves and poring over alien words I bumped into?
That is one aspect of physical dictionaries that programs will never be able to match: the exploratory. I could be looking for what snafu means but as my index finger ripples through its infinite cells, a new word is bound to catch my eye. Since mine was a dictionary and thesaurus combined, it led to me spending a good hour just reading the meaning of words and their place in sentences.
I think I’ll go back to the older days; I miss my Oxford dictionary too much. Of all the conversations we’ve had, all the words it has taught me since I was a child, accompanying me to school everyday after it did the same with my brother when he was in school. It bore ink stains: scars from all wars with ignorance and clumsiness it has endured over years. Yes, it is true that my copy of the dictionary is no longer the same, yet in spirit my Oxford dictionary stands strong by my side, as strong as its spine.
Like I gushed on the exceedingly serene Facebook page for Le Blog, Catch 22 was a grand work of art with its disarming simplicity and voice, often seemingly insane, it fixes pieces and plucks some out and the end made me want to read it
all over again.
Catch_22_Cover
In the light of my bibliophagous lexiophilic (…another new word) pursuits, I will write of all the words I never knew before I read Heller, and how it is books like these that make you thankful for the joy of being able to feel alive, simply by the act of reading printed paper.
Have you ever had this sort of feeling after reading one book? That there are all these words you never knew existed! Koopy can hear you alright.
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7 thoughts on “The tragedy of not knowing a word’s meaning

  1. I kind of miss dictionaries too, since you could see all the cool words right next to the one you were looking up. When I came to Korea, I bought a huge 2 volume Korean-English dictionary. I have an electronic one now, but I still miss the paper one a bit.

  2. A couple of years ago I found a 1952 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary here in Spain. Though the spine has just about come away, and the fine pages are yellowed, I love it. Some words of a more sexual nature are missing, and the meanings of some words have changed, but that just adds to its charm. It also has an old book smell and is home to a few, almost microscopic, insects, which I am reluctant to evict.

    • Ah, the charm it must exude!
      You have a piece of history right there, capturing the living, breathing language of then: wow.
      Your copy reminds me of my father’s big red dictionary from his college days- yellowing pages with a tiny clinical font and illustrations in places. I wonder where it went.

  3. I still swear by physical dictionaries when it comes to exploring new words and their meanings. I am one lucky guy to be blessed by the omnipresence of an Oxford dictionary dating back to my father’s college days. Much to my delight, it has satisfied the craving of the lexophile in me. Dictionaries (not the electronic ones) comes in handy in any situation.

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