I’m not sure how old I was or if “hoopla” was the word I raised, but her response would have been independent of those variables.
“Look it up.”
From the earliest days of my reading life the dictionary was a nearby companion. How could one not be dazzled by this amazing book? It actually had every single word in it—or so I thought. Of course, in the maturity that destroys so many childhood myths, I learned that almost all the words in our dictionary were from only the English language, that some words considered too risqué were absent, and that new yearly entries were a constant truth.
But I never looked without finding the word I wanted, at least if I could get enough of the spelling correct. Well, maybe, just maybe, I might have failed to locate a risqué word or two.
Dictionaries were everywhere. In later life I had two of the huge unabridged ones, one on each floor of my home. Smaller versions played a big role at my elementary school. I think it was the sixth grade when our teacher distributed one, temporarily, to each of us. We were going to learn how to look up an entry.
A silly activity, I thought. I’d been doing that for years. But that wily teacher knew a trick or two. “Look up palindrome,” she said. I’m sure that wasn’t the word, but a palindrome is one of my favorite things so I thought I’d immortalize it here.
Most of us started thumbing through the multipage book maybe 50 sheets at a time, starting with “aardvark.” Finally someone discovered our goal and announced the page number for all to hear.
“That’s great,” our teacher said, “but it took a long time. Let’s see how to make it go faster.”
We learned to think where the first letter, here a “p,” is in the alphabet. A little more than half way, we realized. So why not turn over half the pages of the dictionary in one shot? We practiced finding words for over 20 minutes and got pretty good at it. Came in handy with phone books too. Yes, there used to be such things.
It was only one day, a small part of one hour, devoted to the technique. But it stayed with me through decades. Funny what you retain when so much else is lost.
Later in life, maybe high school, the wonders of a thesaurus were uncovered. Imagine, an entire book telling me what words mean the same thing, or nearly so, as a word I’d started with. Roget’s Thesaurus was the standard.
I use both dictionary and thesaurus often in my writings. I have a good vocabulary but not a great one. Couple that with the slow deterioration in memory recall and I often need a little help with a definition or synonym.
No longer, though, do I approach the beloved tomes of earlier days. Now I clique on a bookmark to bring up online versions. It’s so easy. If I enter “rediculous,” the system patiently points out no such word exists and provides a long list of possible suggestions as to what I meant, with “ridiculous” right at the top. When I enter the corrected version in the thesaurus (part of the same system) I’m not happy with any of the suggestions but “comical” comes close. Maybe I should look for a synonym of that. No problem. Just clique on “comical.” Ah, “uproarious” is suggested. Perfect! And no time consuming tracing through a path involving several pages in a book.
Yes, the modern approach is a vast improvement in efficiency. But oh how I miss those paper versions!