To glimpse how someone thinks words—and the world—work, pay attention to the way they wield a dictionary. People tell on themselves in the midst of arguments when they try to use the Merriam-Webster to inflict blunt force trauma: “The dictionary says…”
But word lovers—as opposed to those who use words as mere tools—know that a dictionary definition is no lead-pipe cinch. The uses, meanings–even spellings–of a word crack, crumble, and expand over the time. This happens for the same reason people change and grow: Because language and words are living things.
Words breathe and sigh and demand. Words shake their fists and speak indirectly and even lie, by omission and commission. Words live; they don’t just sit inert but shape themselves to history and to the hands that wield them.
In my home, we have four English dictionaries; these include: Dorland’s Pocket Medical Dictionary, 23rd edition (1982), which…
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