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Damn Dictionaries

January 30, 2005 | Jabberwocky

I don’t claim to have the widest vocabulary on the planet, but I do have a decent range of words that I can readily use. That said – I had to look up quandary the other day to get the correct spelling. In doing so I noticed something stupid in the definition.

a situation from which extrication is difficult especially an unpleasant or trying one;

Now – who really thinks that someone looking up quandary is gonna know what the hell extrication means?

In case you are wondering:

To release from an entanglement or difficulty; disengage.

Is it me or does this seem truly odd. Why use complex or rarely used words to describe other complex or rarely used words? I don’t get it. I had to look up a word that was in a definition of a word I was looking up. A dictionary should use basic language to describe its contents as those of us who do use them a lot don’t want to have to go galavanting across the dictionary to a) get the definition we’re looking for and b) to just plain satisfy the curiosity of knowing what that word actually meant.

Am I just being freakish about this or is it a valid concern? Ok, don’t answer that, I don’t think I want to hear the answer…

3 Responses

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  • It’s a ploy. You see, extrication isn’t in the standard edition, it’s only found in the more complete editions that cost more. So what happens is you go to look up a word, and then go to look up a new word, and then you realize you need to buy a new dictionary.

    It’s how the dictionary companies drum up some repeat business.

    john, January 31, 2005 1:03 pm | permalink

  • Even better are the words that happen to have a suffix attached and the definition refers back to the root of the word. I looked up "antipathic" the other day just to make sure I was using it correctly (I ended up going with "apathetic" instead), but the definition was nothing more than "Belonging to antipathy; opposite; contrary; allopathic." Yup, that’s useful. *sigh*

    joel schou, January 31, 2005 11:12 pm | permalink

  • And it happened again!

    I looked up "indignant" to see that I got it spelled correctly and the definition was "Characterized by or filled with indignation".

    Dammit! If I knew what it meant would I be looking it up?

    Shawn, February 23, 2005 9:25 am | permalink

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