Don’t guess, Look it up Somewhere!

I have a fond memory of being in second grade, and the teacher standing in front of us with a dictionary in her hands. She told us that it was and would be one of the most important books we would know in our lives, for it contained within it the knowledge to spell words correctly as well as the meanings of those words. She then told us that from then on, if one of us were to ask her how to spell a word, she would have only one answer — look it up! We were taught how to use the dictionary carefully and I have not looked back since then — the dictionary remains one of my favorite guidebooks to language. It therefore pains me when I get a message from someone that misspells a word and then parenthetically writes “or however it is spelled” as if this excuses their inability to take thirty seconds to look the word up in the dictionary.

A quick Google search for “or however it is spelled” shows over two hundred thousand results — that phrase being just one of many people employ to excuse their bad spelling and lack of effort to correct it.

This is not just about spelling, incidentally. If you are having a conversation with friends, and you make a reference to a historical event, the correct thing to do is not to say that you do not remember in what year the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but to either look it up or to ask if anyone else remembers it. It sounds odd to me in a conversation when someone says, “Bastille Day is a commemoration of conquistadors in Portugal, or something like that, I don’t really care.” Well if you don’t really care, then why are you citing a historical non-event?

Back to the beautiful world of spelling and meaning — in the last fifteen years, the search engine Google has gone from just showing web sites containing a word to actually helping with spelling and then even further. Here is their attempt to help you fix a spelling mistake :

Now they have gone even further, and have made available the etymology of many words in (for the time being) the English language — I am positively in love with this new feature.

I still highly favor paper dictionaries over looking up the meaning of a word by doing a Google search for it, but with this new etymology feature that may change… not that I can take advantage of this technology during the holy Shabbos… but then maybe I should stop fretting about the etymology of words when I’m meant to be resting and enjoying the company of my peers!


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