Writing Hint #40: Use a dictionary

This hint might be stating the obvious, but when I read some blogs on the internet, I wonder if the writers have ever used a dictionary in their lives. Perhaps they do not even know how to use one.

For a writer, a good dictionary is an essential tool. These days you do not even have to have a hard copy dictionary sitting on the shelf next to where you write. There are a number of very good dictionaries freely available in the internet.

I still prefer to have a good, reliable, solid dictionary in my hand. In fact, I have no less than four sitting on the shelf above my writing desk. I consult one or more of them frequently, sometimes to check my spelling, sometimes to check the meaning. I have learned to never trust the computer spell check. It is a guide only and it is often wrong. Do not rely on it.

My dictionaries:

  • The Shorter Oxford Dictionary: I call it “Big Bertha” as it weighs in quite heavily. I do not use this one all that often and primarily only to check out the etymology (history) of words.
  • The Penguin English Dictionary: I have used this dictionary frequently since buying it in 1965. I think it could even be a first edition. It has been a solid workhorse for me ever since. Its pages are yellow and tattered from frequent use. Being a paperback, I’m amazed it has held together over four decades of use.
  • The Concise Macquarie Dictionary: This is the authoritative dictionary on Australian words, especially on those peculiarly Aussie idioms we love to use. It’s a bloody ripper, mate!
  • The Collins Cobuild Learner’s Dictionary: This is my most recent acquisition and is the most modern of all of my volumes. I specifically bought it to assist me when I was still teaching. My wife has also used it when tutoring students. It has several features not found in most dictionaries (e.g. frequency of use of each word).

So there you go.

Good writing – and don’t forget to check your spelling.

Further reading:

  • Writing hints – dozens more articles I’ve written giving writing hints to improve your writing.

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