The Value of Physical Dictionaries and Open Discourse

We like Twitter except for the limitations of letters/spaces given for any one tweet often does not allow for full information. Here is an example:

A man posted that the definition for the word “discriminates” needed to be clarified and provided to SCOTUS, the Supreme Court of the United States, since he did not agree with rulings they made about something (which he never said what that was).

So, we here at Blue Room Books, pulled out our trusty and massive Websters Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged and looked it up. Carefully reading the full definition, we realized the word he supplied was an action of decisions taken whether positive or negative in nature, and we supplied that to him.

Another man came back at us with what we clearly understood was a narrowly specific, online-sourced, highly political, and clearly Social Marxist definition. So, where our reporting of the definition included his minor definition, his excluded the broader and more full meaning.

We let him know that and he still did not understand. Why not? Was he unwilling to question his knowledge? We don’t know. But we got a big hint about how he felt when he came back with:

“You publish books and you’re questioning this definition? And suggest it’s Marxist? How can you publish books when you are so remarkably ignorant of words?”

Our answer was: “Great questions. The answer is: The definition provided by us includes the + and the – of the word in all situations, while the one you gave focused only on the PC aspect. Our job as publisher is to understand all the ways authors can use words.”

And thusly you can see the difficulty we encounter every day when editing writers’ works. What is rosé to one is burgundy to another, while the reader pool itself may have more varied understandings thereby leading them to miss the author’s point entirely.

So, as publishers, it’s our job to make sure which is most important to the author and question them on this. We have great conversations with our authors where they explain why they chose to use the words they did in a particular passage where we then drill down into how that could be misconstrued. Once the author understands we are merely attempting to solve a potential issue, they can then make the decision to keep it as is or make changes to either set up the statement, shed light on it, or rewrite.

Happens all the time.

We have such wonderful conversations with our authors and from those we learn plenty more that we can then apply to others who pitch us.

See? We’re all learning.

Which, of course, brings us back to dictionaries.

You see, we discriminate on which dictionaries to use and prefer the printed versions from a wide range of eras. This gives us a historical usage that is very helpful to our job.

Unfortunately, the databases of online dictionaries and the ones included in popular word processing programs are limited in size. Further, we’ve noticed many words formerly included have now been removed and/or replaced. Also, we’ve noticed the definitions that pop up closely mirror only politically correct meanings — and sometimes they do that badly.

For instance, one author used corpulent. Their word processing program flagged it with this message: “That word is insulting. Instead use fat.”

Did that make your head spin? It should if you’re a writer and reader. You see how the providers of these programs are attempting to dumb down inexperienced writers? We won’t have any of that. (Or, God forbid, those making those databases are themselves not so smart.)

Unlike many who throw around insults like so many sticks and stones to those with whom they disagree, we refuse to engage in such silliness and keep on pushing for the accurate use of words. By taking a request seriously, no matter how snarky the delivery, we hope to open minds to the full glory of the languages we speak on this beautiful blue planet of ours.

Willingness to question one’s own body of knowledge and listen to others shows one has an open mind. Now, however, once the question has been answered, making sure one understands the why of choosing that meaning will help one to explain it to others in a clearly logical fashion without flinging insults.

Of course, that is no guarantee the others will change their minds, but at least you made the attempt and, for that, you should be praised. Good for you!