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How to Read the Dictionary: Etymologies are Treasures

Reading a dictionary might sound like a punishment from middle school, but once you know how to read a dictionary, you will quickly realize that reading the dictionary is not a punishment all. The dictionary is full of wonderful treasures about the English language. Unless you studied English in an college in the United States, you probably never learned that a dictionary has more than definitions.

Organized Alphabetically

Dictionaries are organized alphabetically. Each page will have guide words at the top of the page to help people find the rest of the words on the page. Guide words are supposed to make life easier for people who are using research in the dictionary; however, people who have challenges with spelling do not always find guide words to be helpful. It is important for people to know that the dictionary is not just a book to teach people how to spell words; there are many other uses for the dictionary that can make it much more interesting to use.

Dictionary Basics

Dictionary entries usually contain a variety of information. Each entry begins with the actual word in a bold font. Then the pronunciation is given; this is done with pronunciation symbols and most dictionaries have a key to those symbols on spread. The pronunciation helps reads learn how to say the word. Vowels will have curved lines if they are short sounds and straight lines if they are long vowels

The next part of the entry is how the word should be used in a sentence. You will learn whether the word is a noun, verb, adjective, or other part of speech. Some words can be used as different parts of speech, especially if you can add endings to the word.

After the part of speech, the next part of the entry is the definition of the word. The most commonly used definition will be first and if there are any other definitions, they will follow in order of use. If there are slang definitions, they will be last and they will be clearly marked as slang. Some dictionaries will have synonyms or spellings with endings added; these help people learn whether the word has any unusual spellings or dropped letters.

Etymology: Word History Treasures

One of the most interesting parts of any dictionary entry is the etymology section. This is where the history of the world is revealed. Most people have absolutely no idea that there is history in the dictionary and that it exists in practically every entry. Etymology is the study of words and how they entered into the language. In the English language, words have been taken from a wide variety of other languages and in some cases, they have been completely made up. The etymology section of each entry lets people learn about the vibrant history of the English language.

The etymology section of the dictionary entry is usually put into brackets, so it stands out from the rest of the entry. The information in the brackets will include where the word came from, in the form of abbreviations. For example, the word “home” has an etymology from Old English, which is often listed as OE. The word was first used before 1100c. It has also appeared in Old High German and Middle English. When words are from OE, they are the oldest words in the English language, making them REAL English words.

Each year, dictionary publishers release the words that are newly added and the words that have died from lack of use. One of the most unusual additions in recent years was the word “D’oh!” which is an interjection. The word was first used in 1993, but it does not have a language etymology from an early language, because the word came from a television show.

Once people realize they can look up the histories of words, the dictionary quickly becomes an interesting source of information. It is amazing to see how old many of our words are and where they can from!


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