How do you know what a word means?
We don’t always know! Lexicographers generally have wide vocabularies and fairly good general knowledge, but none of us can hope to be familiar with all the words that we deal with in the course of our work. We discover the meaning of an unfamiliar word by looking at our databases of language and by consulting reference works.
Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, when we’re defining a word we combine our understanding of how it is used in the language with an analysis of resources. This should result in a definition of how a word is actually used, rather than how we think it should be used.
How to use a dictionary
- Choose the right dictionary
– Consider purchasing specialist dictionaries if they’d be useful in your study or career.
- Read the introduction.
– Reading the introduction will give you a handle on how to find words and how to use the information that you do find.
- Learn the abbreviations.
-Dictionaries often have abbreviations in the definitions for a word, and will tell you what kind of word the word you’re looking up is.
- Learn the guide to pronunciation.
– Having an idea about the symbols of pronunciation will make it a lot easier for you.
- Find the section of the dictionary with first letter of your word.
– Dictionaries follow alphabetical order, and don’t forget the possible spellings for trickier words, such as “gnome” begins with a “g”, or “psychology” begins with a “p”.
- Read the guide words.
-These are the two words at the top of the page that tell you what types of words are on the page.
- Scan down the page for your word.
– If you were looking for the word “futile,” for example, you would move past “furry” and “fuse” and “fuss”
- Read the definition.
– Once you’ve located the word it will tell you exactly what it means (and if it has more than one meaning, it will tell you the most common one first), how to pronounce it, how to capitalize it (if it’s a proper noun), what part of speech it is and so on.
- Have Fun!
How to know the meaning of a word by the context?
When attempting to decipher the meaning of a new word, it is often useful to look at what comes before and after that word. The surrounding words can give readers helpful context clues about the meaning and structure of the new word, as well as how it is used.