How To Use A Dictionary

By: Robert Thomson


When a person reads past words he does not understand he goes sleepy, goes blank on the reading material, and may eventually give up study of the subject. Words have meaning. Many words have more than one meaning. Going past a word or symbol has physiological affects on the mind as said.

So students need to address this phenomena with dictionaries. But dictionary can be daunting to many of us. Some students have even been taught at school that dictionaries are unnecessary, and that they should be able to work out what words mean only by context. This is false.

“The children went quiet as the crepuscule approached.” is a demonstration. You cannot derive the meaning of crepuscule from the sentence. It means twilight or darkness.

What do these following words really mean? Mathematics, science, physics, geography, and history?

If you could not recite a quick definition of them then there may be words you did not understand. If that is the case, then let me guess that you did poorly at school on that subject. Often students who perform poorly at mathematics cannot define its meaning.

Words have very precise meaning. To understand a subject you need to know what the subject means. But why is it important to be able to know words after you have left school?

If this world community is to expand peacefully, it needs to be able to communicate within itself. To do that we need words. To be able to use words you need to understand them. And to do that you need a reference book on words that we all agree upon – a dictionary.

Mathematics means the science of numbers and shapes. Science means knowing or knowledge of something. Physics is the science dealing with the properties of the physical universe. Geography is the science dealing with the earth's surface. History simply means knowing, usually of the past.

Dictionaries have these definitions. Many words have more than one meaning. If you read a word, and think it means something else, will you understand the sentence? No. “The bat went click,” is such an example. Am I writing about a flying animal and the sounds it uses to tell direction, or am I writing about a sportsman? If a person only knows of the flying animal definition, then when he reads about the ball whistling past the bat he is likely to get the wrong meaning of the sentence.

So how do you use a dictionary to tell which meaning is in use?

A dictionary has listed the various different meanings of the word you are looking for. Look up the definition you think is used in the context of what you are looking at. This now is when context is important. When you have that straightened out, look at the other definitions, and work through them so you can use each properly. Give examples to yourself of usage of each definition you come across. In Scientology we have text books on how to precisely do this. We call it word clearing. You clear up the word to a full conceptual understanding of all its meanings.

Also note that you have the spelling as well as the pronunciation to understand. And when you have all the definitions understood, look at where the word comes from. This word derivation is important as it shows you how the word was once used, in its original form, and you can see how the word changed through time. This gives you a deeper and richer understanding of the word. Then, look at the idioms and clear those too.

Make sure you use a dictionary at the education level to which you or your student are suited. If it is too big you will get overwhelmed by all the other words in it that you do not understand.. If it is too simple you will learn too little. There are many big dictionaries around and one can graduate to them, but do it on a gradient, so you learn on the way.

And also clear the words in the dictionary that you do not understand. If you look up a word and the dictionary uses words that you do not understand, you will give up using dictionaries. So clear those words too.

Dictionaries are made to be used. They are pretty friendly. Editors do their best to make them that way. They have guide words at the top, and they have pronunciation keys at the front of the book. Use them.

In summary, dictionaries are an integral way of how we step up to a higher educational level. If you want to be a dummy, well fine. But not everyone wants to be that way. If you have gotten to the end of his article, you are likely someone who wants well for you and others.

So here is to a better world. May we be able to communicate with words and language well spoken that we all agree upon. For words are the stepping stones to peace.

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Nick Broadhurst is the Executive Director of the Church of Scientology of Canberra. He has been in Scientology for 20 years and has read over 20,000 pages, and listened to over 300 taped lectures on the subject. Using A Dictionary Course , Study Skills Course

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