Dictionaries are for amateurs

I come from a family of avid readers.  When other families gather, they play ball or watch sports on TV. We’re confused. Why would they waste precious time doing that?  Our get togethers consist of exchanging stacks of books with other siblings. We keep lists of recommended authors on us in case we pass a used-book store and have ten minutes to stop and browse.  However we’re not purists who insist on holding an actual paper book, all of us have embraced eBooks. I have the cachet of being the first sib to discover how to check out books on them through the Public Library.

Despite our fear an eReader wouldn’t give the intrinsic pleasure of holding an actual book, the prospect of never being without a book outweighed any misgivings.  I now carry, to date, 382 books in my purse on my Kindle. Thus far we’re one hundred percent in the Kindle camp, but we wouldn’t sneer at a Nook user; we would just warn them that if they do buy a Nook, it won’t be compatible and therefore they won’t be able to borrow from us.

However, our prolific reading has an embarrassing downside. It makes us assume we are more knowledgeable than we are. For example, when we happen upon an unknown word we don’t immediately pick up the dictionary – dictionaries are for amateurs. The context of the sentence gives us the meaning of the word. For instance, when I read “Her vermillion handbag, matched her scarlet shoes,” I know that vermillion is a synonym for scarlet and my mind paints it a brilliant tomato red.  We look good on paper because we can spell the word and use it correctly and thus continue on in our ignorance.

Our shortsightedness shows up when we have occasion to introduce these new words into our conversation.  For example, I was in college before I realized that a false front was not a fuh-kade as I always said in my mind when I read it, it was a fuh-sod.   And chaos, pronounced chay-ose in my mind, turned out to be kay-oss. This one is a bummer because I actually like my pronunciation better. The ignorance continued because I became enamored with foe-kuh-chee-uh bread, and scowled when the salesperson didn’t understand what I wanted. She had to gently explain that it was foe-kay-sha bread.

Our most humorous – and David, I hope you’re still in Rwanda and won’t read this – happened at supper when we were teens. Sitting around the table, talking about a supposed friend who had suddenly become stuck-up, David muttered, “He’s so pee-us.” In our conservative God-fearing, Bible-reading home we’d never heard such profanity. Then it clicked. “It’s pious, David, pious.” As in the way of all good stories, it’s become our word for holier-than-thou individuals ever since.

Surely the Brueggemann’s aren’t the only family who suffer from malapropism.  Share yours and let us laugh at someone besides ourselves.

One Response to “Dictionaries are for amateurs”

  1. Havilah says:

    I have a GREAT story. :)

    When I was a kid, my sister and I were stuck in a strange town for an afternoon, waiting for our car to be repaired. My sister was bored so I piped up, “We should go watch a mah-tee-nee!” She gave me a blank look.

    “You know, a movie they play in the afternoon?” I said slowly, as if explaining this to a small, not-very-bright child.

    I think she is still howling with laughter.

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