When people are trying to get an idea out of their head, whether they be writers, readers or students, they try many different things. Some do free writing. I find that when I am writing fictional pieces, this is the most beneficial. Others do listing or mapping and neither of these have ever really worked for me.
Today, I had to write another critical engagement essay for my film class. I knew I was going to do my essay on Band of Outsiders, but I had no idea on what. I was stuck. I watched the movie, twice, but sitting there, watching this movie that didn't make any sense to me, I couldn't think of the slightest thing to write this paper on.
When I am stuck, I don't use free writing or mapping. I go to the dictionary; I define words. Whether I am writing a paper for school, writing a post for this blog or trying to find the right word to use in everyday conversation, I consult the dictionary. The dictionary is my very best friend.
Even if I know what the words I am trying to use mean, I look them up in the dictionary. When I think I know what a word means, it's usually because I've used it so many times and I can just remember the context in which I've used it in before. I go, "Oh yea, I used it like that so it will work here." I fear this is what a lot of people do, and no one looks back at the first meaning.
It reminds me of a game of telephone. When I was a kid, I went to a summer camp. One of the games we played often was telephone. Everyone sat around in a circle. Sometimes there were fifteen of us who sat around, criss-cross applesauce and waited for our turn. One person started by whispering a phrase or a sentence into the ear of the person next to them. Then, that person would listen and try to figure out what the previous person had whispered, and you only had one chance to hear what they said. Then, that person would try to whisper the sentence into the next person's ear. Sure, at first the sentence still sounded like what the first person had said. Though, as one person tried to repeat what one person thought they had heard, eventually the sentence got back to the first person, and it sounded nothing like what the sentence was.
This is exactly what happens with words today. One person says a word and uses it in a sentence. Then, someone else who hears that person use it uses it in a sentence and they sort of get it right. Then the next person tries and eventually, the context that surrounds this word sounds nothing like what the first person said!
No one sits around and reads the dictionary anymore. A small portion of people pride themselves on knowing definitions and using words properly. Too many times I've argued with a friend or a partner about the use of a word. They argue me to the death, because they have used this word so many times and they remember what it means. Too many more times I have pulled up the definition of the word and showed them that they are using it wrong.
While it's nice to have the ability to commit the definitions and the contextual surroundings of words to memory, sometimes it's better to get back to the basics. I don't seem to have very many good examples, but I hope you understand what I mean when I talk about the true meaning of a word. Anyone can go to the dictionary and look up the definition of a word, but do we understand what that means?
Sometimes, when we define a word, there are more words that we need to define. The definition holds more words that we think we know the definitions of. This, right here, is the part that I absolutely love about words. I love that you can look up one word and it will lead you to another one. You can look up words all day and each one will lead back to the first one that you looked at. This is what I love to do and it is what I want to do in this blog. I want to share with you, my readers and audience, and hopefully friends, the words that I find. I want to share the chemical reaction that goes off when we look up one word.
The 'popcorn' effect that happens when looking up a word is almost like mapping when you think of it. One word is in the middle of all of your other words and they all lead back to the main word. They all lead back to the initial explosion that occurred.
In reality, there aren't people walking around with their noses in a dictionary, yelling at people who don't know the "by-the-book" definition of a word. Though there are a lot of people who do, and I strive to find those people. Those like minded people who sit around with their nose in the dictionary are the people I want to connect with, along with anyone who shares the common interest of words!
When was the last time you looked up a word in the dictionary that you think you already knew the definition to?
I do this a lot. I do it almost everyday. Technology has made it so simple for us to grab our phone and look up anything with a couple of clicks on our mobile keypads. I have the Dictionary.com application on my phone. I have an iPhone, so when I'm texting I can just highlight a word and bring up the definition of the word I'm using with a single touch.
How do we come to learn the definitions of so many words?
We house a vast majority of words in our small brains. We memorize so many definitions. We remember the context in which a word was once used and use our brain power to decipher what that word actually, supposedly means. Our brain is a beautiful piece of machinery.
I have some homework for my readers. The next time you go to use a word that you think you know the meaning of, look it up. Google it, Yahoo it, pull out the good ol' hard-cover dictionary; however you want to find it. When you do, go ahead and comment below with your word and the definition. I am so curious to see what you find!
Until next time, and happy blogging!