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My Personal Dictionary and World Exploration

Updated on September 18, 2014

A Personal Dictionary as an Organized Stream of Consciousness

Don't feel inhibited looking up the meaning of words. You have no excuse. Online you'll find the Free Dictionary, the Urban Dictionary,, the OED (by subscription) Wikipedia and the list goes. Offline, every home should have a printed dictionary (I recommend a few below)

You see, learning does not stop in childhood. Reading or doing crosswords is great, but your word knowledge is not fixed. Why not look up words you don't know and let them lead you to explore the world - you'll impress in conversation and be a better reader; a better Scrabble or Boggle player; a better crossword solver to boot!

If a language, such as English, is your 2nd language, then constantly looking up the meaning of words will help you learn the language faster.

Look up a word that you don't know

And your knowledge of the world will grow


Follow the Words to Learn about the World

Stream off from any Book, Word Puzzle, Article or Conversation with your New Word

You never know where a word may lead.

Say there are 4 spaces in the crossword; the crossword puzzle clue is "neighbor of Ivory Coast" - Answer is Mali, of course! So go look Mali up and learn something about it! But also write (or e-write) down what you learn.

Say you are playing Boggle and someone has the word "nene" which you challenge. Well, well. If a nene isn't a gray-brown wild goose AND the state bird of Hawaii. So write down what you have learned and continue on - your interest may be sparked to learn about other birds of Hawaii or perhaps you now want to know the word for flock of geese. Your particular and peculiar mind will lead you differently than someone else.

But more than stream of consciousness, keeping a record of the words and their definitions will help you to remember and learn them better.

The main separation you need in your word list or personal dictionary is for regular words and phrases like idioms to be separate from Proper Nouns and other capitalized words (like acronyms, titles, etc). Perhaps you can keep these in 2 files in your favorite word processor so you can easily search for the word again (or a word from the definition). If you want to group your words, that's OK, but I prefer the semi-randomness of a simple WP file.

Dictionaries for Your Bookshelf

If you can't use a computer or smart phone to look up words that you are not familiar with, then you must have a Dictionary handy!

As a Child

Those Wonderful Book Clubs and a Love for Reading

I looked forward to arrival of the Arrow and Tab book club flyers, from Scholastic, in school, when I was a child. I perused every choice, trying to make the wisest decisions, until the day the flyers were collected by my teacher (with my money). Naturally I awaited the book delivery day equally. Separate from assigned readings, during those years, I collected and read many books at home and while being jostled on the New York City subways and buses.

Scholastic is still going strong in the schools. Many of my paperback classics from those early years, which I won't sell, are safely stored in boxes. A few are on my bookshelves.

Later, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club and so collected the works of Asimov, Donaldson and Clarke. These books too are still on my book shelves. You will know them by the uneven edges of their paper. For a time I was with Book of the Month Club to broaden my exposure to other genres but while the books were great, these were generally more costly and I couldn't keep up the expense.

Over the years, I have followed many authors - I like the Romance novels of Jude Devereaux and the medical mysteries of Robin Cook. I eagerly awaited Harry Potter 5, 6 and 7 after catching up with books 1 through 4. With my daughter, I breezed through Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books (reading "Twilight" just a month before the fourth book was released)

Nowadays, I pick up a book through personal recommendation or by looking at the Most Popular books or Recommended books at the local book store. Currently I'm alternating between Ahab's Wife (on the Popular reading list at the local book store) and The Road (required reading for 11th grade LA). It's funny that I can alternate between such diverse prose.

Anyway, I like to acquire books, read them and keep them, so I have not used the library as much as I should. This is a personal thing.

Thomas Covenant and My Personal Dictionary

I don't remember an earlier age for starting a word list, but I remember distinctly reading the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephan Donaldson and having a pen and paper handy at all times to jot down the obscure words that would crop up in his prose. I had to balance my desire to read through for enjoyment with my desire to stop and note the words.

I clearly remember looking up the word "eyot" in my standard collegiate dictionary to no avail and then finally finding a definition in a very large, heavy library volume. (These were the pre-internet days. We are so spoiled today) I marveled that Mr. Donaldson had such a great vocabulary. (BTW. eyot is a small island, especially in a river)

The following is from a post by Nic on Eve's Alexandria - June 24, 2006 on the subject of Donaldson - "Donaldson is notorious for his thorny verbiage - what Gavrielle Perry, in one of the more sympathetic assessments out there (during her matchless analysis of the Gap series (hefty spoiler warnings)), called "dense thickets of prose". He has a clear fondness for obscure words, the more complex, expressive and gnarly the better..."

I don't know what happened to my word lists from the Covenant books but I learned so many new words through reading the 2 trilogies, some of which I remember to this day. At the time, I kept hand-written word lists with each book.

Now I keep 2 personal dictionaries in MS Works files on my computer - One is for regular words and one for capitalized names, titles, etc. Most of the entries are English but other languages creep in from time to time, especially if they are from a crossword - like "Italian for 3" or "friend of Pierre" or "German article".

I usually add a few entries every day; to the bottom of the document - no fancy organization needed - that's what Ctrl-F is for.

Classic Sci Fi with Loads of Great Words

The Thomas Covenant Books are replete with great words - here are some selections from Amazon - please read them all.

The Runes of the Earth (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Book 1)
The Runes of the Earth (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Book 1)
The first book of the final Thomas Covenant series (series is not completely written yet)

I'm Doing it Again!

A New Word List Emerges

With "The Road", Cormac McCarthy has forced me to keep a new word list. While his imagaic prose is spectacular and scenes can be visualized from context, the words are still pulling me to pen them down and learn their nuance. As I have said, I don't remember all the words from the Covenant books, but gryke (=grike - a solution fissure, a vertical crack about 0.5 m wide formed by the dissolving of limestone by water, that divides an exposed limestone surface into sections or clints - English Collins Dictionary) seems as obscure.

For those who love the book or not; who've read the book or not, the movie version of The Road is to be released sometime 2009 with cast including Charlize Theron and Viggo Mortensen among others.

Also, a couple years ago, I did keep a list from "The Life Of Pi" by Yann Martel - Some were English, some Hindi, some Arabic - a real cultural melange.

More Recent Must Reads for the Word Collector

Whether you like crosswords, Scrabble or Boggle, anagrams or Bookworm, there are a gazillion (gazillion - Informal - an extremely large, indeterminate number - ) word puzzles in printed, 3D (like the real Scrabble with the wooden tiles - I have a set like this) or electronic form.

My husband and I usually do the newspaper crossword from the morning paper except on Sundays since those puzzles are way too hard. We have yet to work to the level of the daily New York Times puzzle. We're getting pretty quick and our memories are getting sharper.

I sometimes print out the Universal crossword - available on line from at least 2 web-sites. I like to solve it in my reading chair, far away from the computer.

In addition to the entries in the boxes, there are notations to look up the obscure words or notable person. Sometimes spaces are left when we can't determine what the answer is in either across or down. Internet searching (read google), of the crossword clue, usually provides the answer and the meaning is noted as well.

We have been doing the particular newspaper's crossword consistently enough that we understand the editor's habits and can often glean the correct word or avoid the wrong word. I have also had occasion to differ with the editor on the choice of clue - but my husband often reminds me "It is a clue. It is not a definition" That said, there have been poorly edited puzzles where the answer was downright Wrong!

Someday I will tackle the NYT - but this will be when I it is challenging to me yet not an awful struggle and time burner. In the meantime, my personal dictionaries are getting longer and I am remembering newly discovered words and where they have led me.

Word Puzzles at Amazon

There may be lots of puzzles available on line but, trust me, you will enjoy working on the printed page in your quiet reading spot.

A Great Movie For the Crossword Lover

Prepare for the toughest timed crossword contest on the planet

Some of MyFairLady's Favorite Short Words

  • paean - noun - any song of praise, joy, or triumph. - From Finally tomato time in Colorado By Susan Clotfelter in
  • amole - - the root of any of several plants, as Mexican species of agaves, used as a substitute for soap. 2. any such plant itself. From today's crossword.
  • hod - noun - a portable trough for carrying mortar, bricks, etc., fixed crosswise on top of a pole and carried on the shoulder. 2. a coal scuttle. - From today's crossword.
  • chert - noun - a compact rock consisting essentially of microcrystalline quartz.

Each day learn the meaning of a word and see where it leads


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