Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dictionary anyone?

Welcome to Day 4 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Today's letter is D. If you read yesterday's post, then you know that I ended with "Yes, that lovely letter called D is dandy and D stands for much more than dictionary. I am sure I'll come up with something." Well, guess what, folks. After careful consideration I've decided on (drumroll, please) the dictionary. The best part is that dictionaries consist of something else that begins with D...definitions.

Some words can be difficult to define. Take the word beauty, for example. The first thought that comes to my mind is something that is aesthetically pleasing. Of course, if one doesn't understand what aesthetically means, this wording would not serve the purpose of definiton very well, would it? So I decided to search online. At I found this:

beauty [ˈbjuːtɪ]
n pl -ties
1. the combination of all the qualities of a person or thing that delight the senses and please the mind
2. a very attractive and well-formed girl or woman
3. Informal an outstanding example of its kind the horse is a beauty
4. Informal an advantageous feature one beauty of the job is the short hours
5. Informal, old-fashioned a light-hearted and affectionate term of address hello, my old beauty!

I could leave it at that, go on to explain the importance of the dictionary in learning language and in checking spelling. I could even give more examples if I wanted. But why bore you to death?. Instead, I would like to introduce you to another type of dictionary, one that will make things a bit more interesting. 

Have you ever heard of the Devil's Dictionary? It is a satirical lexicon written by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913).  Originally published in 1906 as The Cynics Word Book, it was retitled in 1911.
A century later the unabridged version (which includes definitions not listed in shorter versions) still remains popular. 

For the sake of comparing apples with apples, this is how Bierce defines beauty.

Beauty, n: the power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.

The definition is not as complete as our earlier example but certainly holds true.  How about a few more:

Coward: One who, in a perilous emergency, thinks with his legs.

Acquaintance. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.
Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.

Belladonna, n.: In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.

And perhaps his most famous:

Love: A temporary insanity curable by marriage.

If you like these examples, why not visit your local library and borrow a copy or consider buying a copy here to keep at home. You never know when it might come in handy. Party hit a lull? Pull it off the shelf and start reading. Then just say a word and let people guess what the definition might be. Making up your own silly explanations can be loads of fun. If you'd like to start practicing, then stay tuned for tomorrow's post. We'll be exploring the letter E, and I will issue a challenge to all of you.

So, as Ernie and Bert sing...and now I'm dee-dee-dee DONE.

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