Can you still Look Up a Dictionary?

Dictionaries pleading for recognition.
Dictionaries pleading for recognition. | Source
A Bookcase suffering from depression.
A Bookcase suffering from depression. | Source

'i' Before 'e' Except after .....What?

or that the letters within the words determined the word's position in the dictionary? For instance abaft will come before abattoir?

Take a sample from the first page of Chambers English Dictionary for instance.

Abaft.... f, before

Abalone... l, before

Abandon.... n, comes before

Abase.... se, which is before

Abash.... sh, which comes earlier than

Abate.... te, which is sooner than

Abattoir.... tt.

I know, I know; you’re shaking your head at such a daft question. Everybody can look up a dictionary for goodness sake. But……..

……when was the last time you looked up a dictionary or directory?

I’m not denigrating the upcoming generation; they are vastly more knowledgeable than my generation ever was. This is partly because at school they learn about things that didn’t even exist in my generation, and they are multi-functional in their technical abilities. They accept things like iPods, cell phones and tablets as facts of life.

I can still remember the first television and yes, it was black and white with a screen almost the same size as one of today’s tablets. And I can still recall the first day I started work, and the paralysing fear I felt when I discovered as office boy that I had to answer the only telephone – and the utter humiliation when it did ring, and twenty staff members discovered that I hadn’t a clue which end to talk into.

That cannot happen nowadays; the youth of today has phone/camera/TV’s/ welded to their hands and ears. I have seen a teenager cycle through the park with two dogs on a leash as he texted a message on his cell phone; needless to say he was cycling hands free.

There is no doubt about the youth of today’s versatility - or their reliance on technology.

And it is that reliance which is most troubling.

The problem of the future will be if technology fails, even briefly – and we all know that it will at some point. Not much would happen nowadays; when the electricity supply fails we congratulate ourselves for toughing it out for the two or three hours it takes for the emergency crews to re-connect us. If our TV signal fails, the television set will automatically search for another signal from a different transmitter or satellite. However, if the internet should cease to exist, we would be up sh** creek without a paddle, especially when it comes to communication via the written word.

The top photograph to shows the dictionaries and reference books I have beside my monitor. The second photograph shows only one of the bookcases that are placed strategically around the house. I can find the answer to anything by searching for the proper reference book. If I want to find the Canadian or American spelling of a word all I have to do is pick up the correct book and riffle through it until I find what I want. If I’m not too sure of the spelling of a word I can look it up before entering it on-screen. Should I want to know what a Kangaroo’s baby is called, I can open up a volume of the Universal Encyclopaedia under Australia and search for the answer there. The answer is a ‘joey,’ the female Kangaroo is called a ‘flyer’ and a male is known as a ‘boomer.’

Did I look up my reference books to find out these facts? Did I heck! I did what every sane person on the planet does. I sat on my fat butt and typed ‘kangaroo baby’ into Google and I had the answer immediately. Not only can I find the answer to the question that is bugging me, but I can find synonyms and antonyms. If I am not to sure of how to spell the word all I need to do is enter my spelling of the word on-screen and watch as Microsoft changes it straight away to the proper spelling. Not only that, my computer tells me off for entering ungrammatical sentences. If I’m not too sure of what I want to look up, I can find it by using the online reverse dictionaries.

You are only a click away from all of the World’s knowledge. This astounding fact is almost incomprehensible. Pause for a moment and allow yourself to be overwhelmed.

The snag? It could lead to mass illiteracy, if not mass ignorance.

The illiteracy could come about because it will soon be unnecessary to know any grammar or spelling whatsoever.

The ignorance can come about because there will be no point in remembering anything when it is so simple to find it out.

I’ve noticed this already in my smartass friends – the kind that used to know lots of silly facts, like Wonders of the World, Greek and Roman gods, quotations from the Bible or Shakespeare, and historic battles dates. Now, when I ask them for a specific date, they give me a blank look, and tell me to consult Google.

There is a word that encompasses all that I am trying to explain – hold on a minute until I look it up.

Sigh….There is one printed encyclopaedia I won’t be looking up. The news has just been released (March 2012) that the Encyclopaedia Britannica – the pinnacle of information when it comes to the written word has now ceased printing the encyclopaedia, and has changed over completely to the digital version.

Hapy gramatical memories foks - njoy.


More by this Author


Comments 14 comments

cloverleaffarm profile image

cloverleaffarm 4 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

Great hub. I don't think this generation is any more knowledgeable, they just have a different kind of knowledge. I do know they do not use their memories as much as we did. We had to remember things. Now, they just put it in their phone, or ipad.

I agree with the mass ignorance concept. As generations go by, they will not have to "think" about anything, because the computers will do it for them. I am glad to have been born in a time when "the mind was a serious thing to waste". Ha, remember those commercials.

Great hub, voted up, and interesting.


sarahmoose profile image

sarahmoose 4 years ago from Nottingham, England

I must admit, it is rare now to see children using dictionaries! However, as a tutor to secondary school children in the UK, I get those who I tutor in English to find their favourite unusual word, and play consequences with words starting with a certain letter. They are still a great tool, and I hope I've inspired some young people to us them more!!


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

Thank you for the visit and the vote up, cloverleaffarm. I hadn't considered the new generation having a different type of knowledge - I think you're right.

In future the Jeopardy' winner may be the one who logs on to Google first.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Just wait for the moment where two people are holding their smart phones and consulting their smart phones as they have a conversation. Soon the people will be irrelevant and just the two phones will have a conversation.


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

Hi sarahmoose - Thank you for visiting and commenting. That sounds like an excellent idea. Our local daily paper does something similar.

The small village school our grandchildren attend was just voted the best in Eastern Ontario,which is one heck of an honour.


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

Brilliant mckbirdbks. Not only will I remember that remark, but I might just use it in the summary for the hub.

Soon we might have two phones talking to each other and wondering why their humans were losing their signals.


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 4 years ago from India

I've succumbed to online dictionaries to a large extent... but every once in a while I'm stricken with guilt when I look at my old dictionaries and make it a point to flick through the pages to confirm a spelling or check the meaning of a word I'm hazy about. Besides, I love the smell of my old books - can a computer or other gadget ever smell like old paper? :)


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

I appreciate your visit and comment Feline Prophet. I do exactly the same thing with my dictionaries. I feel guilty because they are sitting there pleading with me. Neither Kindles nor computers can replace the feel and smell of books.


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

I think that unfortunately, John, dictionaries are going away. I use one if it is at my fingertips when I need it. Otherwise I depend on an online definition. Not that I'm lazy, of course, just making the best use of my time. Ha!


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

Of course you are simply making the best use of your time drbj - that's a given. A Hubber with your talents can't afford to waste any time, for goodness sake! Thanks for stopping by and commenting; I appreciate it muchly.


Orasdaughter profile image

Orasdaughter 4 years ago from Missouri

John: No truer words ever spoken. I feel this way about calculators too. A similar fate to all of us if we stop using pen and paper to figure out the answer ourselves.


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

Thanks for stopping by,Orasdaughter. I've started writing cursive writing again, and I am seriously considering buying myself a new Parker fountain pen - with those, you have to write slowly and perfectly. Thank you again.


marieryan profile image

marieryan 3 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

Oh Dear! When I saw your photograph of your dictionaries on table beside printer, I thought you must haved crept into my living room and taken a snap! I have exactly the same image if I turn my head to the right!!

I also feel terribly guilty when I remember that over the years I have spent hundreds of pounds on dictionaries, grammar books and thesaur...er...thesauri (just looked that up in a real dictionary, on principle!)


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 3 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence Author

I have a confessions to make,marie. My desk still looks exactly the same, but I only look up a 'real' dictionary when I want certainty. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working