Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why use a dictionary?

Most people think of dictionaries as places to look up how to spell a word or to find the correct meaning(s) of a word.  Among the best known are the many varieties of Merriam-Webster’s and the most famous of all the Oxford English Dictionary.   Another common use for dictionaries is to look up an equivalent word in a foreign language in a French-English, Spanish-English, Greek-English Dictionary, etc.  All of this is true, but dictionaries can be a lot more. 

There are many other sorts of information that can be found in a dictionary.  For instance when reading a book or article about art or theatre, you may come across a reference to an unfamiliar concept, such as “conceptual art “.  A quick look at the “Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes” will tell you that conceptual art is the “..radical idea that a statement which need not be in words can be an aesthetic experience” and that it is found in visual art, music and performance art.  Or if you are reading a financial article and see the word “bubble”, you may not know what is referred to by the term.  However, if you look it up in the “Wall Street Dictionary” you would know that in business terms a bubble is ““..a speculative venture that has little chance of making a profit”. 

And dictionaries may not just illustrate words, but also concrete objects such as a Brewster chair and the aurora borealis as shown in “The Dictionary of Interior Design” and the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology respectively.  There are many uses of dictionaries for short bits of information on, or even pictures of, a term or concept that is unfamiliar. 

Look for more on with this series of articles that will explore some of the many dictionaries found in or accessible through Hewes Library.

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