I admit I used to read dictionaries. Not for fun, but as a method of procrastination. You know in school, how they used to make you look up meanings of words and write them down on your worksheet? Well, the words that weren’t on the worksheet were far more interesting than the words that were. I discovered all sorts of fantastic definitions this way.
The one that sticks out the most in my mind now is the word “mutton-chops.” I believe this is the very first place I ever heard of anyone wearing their beard in a such a way. The dictionary entry was illustrated with a neat little picture too, so I got to stare in fascination at something like this:
I still think it is not the most flattering look for a guy.
That got me thinking, why don’t I ever do this now? Because I almost never crack open a dictionary anymore. If I don’t know how to spell something, or if I don’t know what a word means, I type it into an online dictionary and the right word usually comes up right away. (I know, you thought I was one of those young people who rely exclusively on spell-checker and don’t know how to spell, didn’t you?) It is far quicker to look words up online. But until now I never realized this means I bypass every other interesting word that starts with the same letter as the one I’m looking up.
The growth of the internet has changed a lot of things like this for me – I use dictionary.com instead of dictionaries, thesaurus.com instead of thesauruses, Google Translate instead of English/Spanish dictionaries (or English/French or English/Portuguese dictionaries), and lastly, I use Wikipedia instead of encyclopedias. Remember Microsoft Encarta? Yeah, we used that in school, but now it’s gone the way of the dodo bird.
This has made a lot of things easier, but sadly some things have been lost. I will miss learning about mutton-chops and other assorted strangeness. And what will we do with the stereotype of the nerd who reads dictionaries in his spare time for fun? Does anyone read dictionaries anymore?
What do you think – is dictionary reading a lost art? Has anything about the way you look up words changed?