To begin with

The average joe can’t get through life without a dictionary. It is an essential item if you are a literate, news-reading, even slightly studious person coming in contact with words because language is vast, and no one has mastered it entirely. Merriam-Webster, Random House, Encarta, even Urban Dictionary – these fine fellows provide comprehension when our knowledge of words fails us.

And dictionaries are highly accessible – MacBooks have a dictionary application on the desktop, Dictionary.com is free, and the Oxford English dictionary is online – were you to buy this fine publication, consisting of 20 volumes, you would have to fork over $900 or so (imagine my parents’ amusement when I, unaware of the grandiosity of the OED, asked for it for Christmas).

But have you ever looked up the word “sunrise?” The word “friendship?” Have you typed in “community” on Dictionary.com, or “heat,” or “sand?”

There are words like “philomath” or “gastronome” that we encounter on the ACT or in intelligent writing that send us straight to Webster for help. But honestly, we learn most words in the day-to-day context of living our lives.

Do you realize that you are your own dictionary?

Yes, your own. At the bookstore, you’d find it under the title “(Insert your name here)’s Concise Dictionary.”  On its thin pages, you would find the vocabulary of your life: defined by YOU and your life experiences.

I might flip to page 127 and find your entry for “Belgian waffle” and read the following: “A heavenly confection usually covered in pure maple syrup or mom’s fresh whipped cream; highly caloric, highly satisfying.” Or perhaps on page 49 you have an entry for “Calculus,” which you have defined as, “The most horrible form of torture known to mankind besides water boarding. To be avoided at all – and I mean all – costs.”

I am writing this blog to discover how I’ve defined my own precious collection of words. (You know someone’s an English major when they describe “words” as being “precious,” don’t you?) I want to explore the connotations, denotations, images, tone, mood, and implications of these words.

I want to look at the shaping forces of the defining process – people, places, experiences – and how I have come to understand words intrinsically, with minimal help from Webster or the OED, and through the new lens of college and young adulthood. Words and phrases like “red shoes” and “impatience”, words like “sister” and “thirst.” In short, I want to write my dictionary for you.

I want to examine how I’ve defined – and redefined – the words of my life.

We’re lexicographers together, though. Since you have a dictionary too, I hope you’ll add your own understanding of words to my blog. Because your own whirlwind of a life – your heartaches, your travels, your education, your relationships – have defined your words in similar, or perhaps different, ways than mine.

Thus, this is my welcome and invitation to you. Let’s talk words. And fine, if you really have to bring Webster, so be it. Let’s just start basking in the deliciousness of the English language and its fine phrases.

Like Belgian waffle.

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