In Defense of the Dictionary – The One Made of Paper With Ink and Everything

To a large extent I have found that context together with similarity to other words with which I am already familiar is generally sufficient for at least a rudimentary understanding of the meaning of most new words that I encounter when reading.  However, often this does not give me the tools to explain the meaning very well to someone else.  So over the years I have found myself using a dictionary more and more often.  Sometimes I do this for the purpose mentioned above (for the enlightenment and amusement of my fellow beings, whether they actually care or not, and usually they don’t) or to prove to someone that I am correct in my definition (invariably).  In other cases I want to verify my understanding for my own edification, or horror of horrors I flat-out don’t know what the word means.

Now there are dictionaries online.  They are fast, efficient and….flat out boring.  And in my opinion not really to the point.  You get the word and some definition or other but I am not emotionally satisfied.    A dictionary can be more than a reference whereby you can confirm spelling or read the definition of a word.  And I am not talking about getting a list of synonyms, homonyms or heteronyms or any of that kind of thing.  I don’t want someone else’s list.  I want this to be my own exploration.  I want to traipse off into the darkest jungles of the Amazon, looking for the Semi-Bearded Flat-Bottomed Red-Faced Speckled Lemur, “but wait, look at that, what the heck is that thing?” and we are off in a new direction and discover the lost treasure of the Incas or one of Thor Heyerdahl’s boats.  That to me is what a dictionary is; an exploration where you can encounter new worlds, find the unexpected, and widen your understanding of mankind and the universe.  It is literally impossible for me to look up a word without getting sidetracked by other words that catch my attention, and I know I am not the only one.  And invariably that word leads to another and that one to another and that one….

However, one eventually, generally, finally meanders over to the word sought after in the first place, assuming we have not forgotten what it was in all the excitement.  Sure, go ahead and read the definition, but heck stopping there is for amateurs.  More often than not, the definition is barely adequate.  Start looking at all the words before and after the found word.  Focus on the ones that appear to have some of the same roots as the one you were searching for, or possibly definitions that sound even remotely similar or related in some oblique way, no matter how far-fetched.  In many cases those connections are far more enlightening than the definition found next to your word. You can start imagining the history of the word.  What word or words were in use long ago that transmogrified themselves into this word, and why.  Maybe this word was used in a particular way in the past and changed meaning in a way that has a certain logic to it.

Let’s try one:

  • riparian: of, on a riverbank
  • ripple: ruffling of waters surface
  • ripple: ridged surface left on sand
  • ripple: toothed instrument to clear away seeds
  • rip: stretch of broken water in sea or river.
  • rip current: strong current of water flowing seaward from the shore
  • rip: cut or tear quickly or forcibly away from something.
  • riposte: quick return thrust in fencing, retort.
  • rip: worthless horse, dissolute person, rake
  • rip-roaring: uproarious, vigorous
  • rift: cleft, fissure, chasm in the earth
  • rifling: grooves in gun
  • riffle:  a short, relatively shallow and coarse-bedded length of stream over which the stream flows at higher velocity and turbulence than it normally does. As a result of the higher velocity and turbulence, small ripples are frequently found.
  • riff: repeated musical phrase
  • riffler: a curved rasp (from French rifloir, from rifler to scratch)
  • ridge: a range of hills or mountains, an elongate elevation on an ocean bottom, an elongate crest or a linear series of crests, a raised strip (as of plowed ground)
  • river: Natural stream of water that flows in a channel with more or less defined banks.

So we find  “rip” in words describing:

  • the presence of water (riparian)
  • different kinds of movement of water (rip, rip current and ripple)
  • the appearance of water or sand (ripple)
  • a tool that could make ripple-shaped marks even though that is not its intended purpose (ripple)
  • actions that are similar to the more aggressive water movement (as in rip and rip current)
  • humans and animals that act in ways the evoke the more aggressive actions of water (rip-roaring and rip)
  • a formal movement in fencing, a movement intended to rip open your opponent (riposte)

And then we move to our “rif” words:

  • a “riffle” in a stream creates a ripple
  • “riff” is the musical equivalent of a ripple of sound?
  • “rifling” is a repeated ripple sort of shape
  • a “rift” is an effect created by a ripping action
  • a “riffler” can rasp out curved surfaces, and therefore rippled shapes

the French root of “riffler” meaning to scratch leads us to thinking of scratching with fingernails, which would leave multiple marks, like ripples?

An “riv” word

  • well, just to obvious

And finally a “rid” word:

  • which describes the highest portion of a structure that has raised elongated areas, requiring corresponding parallel elongated areas lower than the raised ones which seems to me would describe pretty much a giant ripple! (ridge)

And if we push this even further afield Could it be that the word “riot” is related? (disorder, tumult, debauchery), sort of ripping apart of the fabric of society, or nature or…  Ok, maybe not, but….

So maybe the original root of all this is “ri”?  Meaning?  And it all branched out from there?

I have no idea, but in the world of the Wizard, this is just way too much fun to explore.



About lawnwatch

Self-appointed know-it-all and gadfly.
This entry was posted in Sheer and Utter Randomness. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to In Defense of the Dictionary – The One Made of Paper With Ink and Everything

  1. jendocino says:

    I didn’t know a riffle made a ripple. See, this is why the Wizard is so fantastic…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s