The part of Say Anything… that people remember, the part that girls idolize and that won our hearts for Lloyd Dobler forever is, of course, the boombox scene. However, as the Diane Court type of girl, one of the scenes I always loved was the dictionary scene. Remember? First of all, she’s got an OED on its own stand, which is awesome, and Lloyd starts flipping through it while she’s changing her dress, and she says that she made a pencil mark next to every word she looked up. And he starts flipping through the pages, and sees dots and dots and more dots on all the pages, and kind of freaks out, and slams it shut.
I have always loved that scene, partly because I felt a kinship with Diane Court (and always wanted to be as gorgeous as Ione Skye), but because I love dictionaries. I love looking up words and then seeing other interesting words nearby, I love learning more about a word’s etymology and language of origin, and I love learning new variations of old favorites. Learning more about one of my favorite words, splendid, led me to one of my new favorites: splendiferous.
Today, I outed myself to my students as a total dictionary nerd. We did some lessons in our grammar books about dictionaries and spelling, but I also hyped my favorite online dictionary for quick usage, and showed them some awesome dictionary-related videos, like this great one on octopus, one of many Ask the Editor videos Merriam-Webster offers on its site. I tried to impress upon them how much dictionaries have to offer beyond a quick definition, and how many interesting nuggets of information are hidden in the entries.
The majority of my students use my least favorite online dictionary, typing the word in quickly and grabbing the first definition they find. We’ve talked explicitly about context clues, a concept I know they’ve heard before, but the ease and speed of tools like SpellCheck and GrammarCheck too often supplant any real research or use of tools that actually help increase understanding.
I want my students to have better grammar, spelling and vocabulary skills, and I want them to see how interconnected those skills are. But also, I want them to see how inventive and fun writing can be when they have all these new spices in their cabinets, and how much richer their reading experience can be when they can recognize all the different layers.
Plus dictionaries are really just so cool.