I use dictionaries and thesauruses constantly. Some people assume that if you’re well-spoken and have a good grasp on grammar and spelling that you must have a fantastic vocabulary and impeccable spelling, too. This may be true for many people, but I am willing to be totally honest and say that this is not so for me.
A lot of my friends were very enthusiastic readers as children. I didn’t mind reading, but found it more of a chore, mainly due to being unable to get into a comfortable position for it (though I don’t understand that now, I’d walk and read if I didn’t bump into so many things trying). I became more interested in boys and make up in my early teens to care enough to read Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl, and I feel bad for my then-self that I never found something I could really get into through my own interest. There was one book I read in my late teens which I’d bought just as a back-up for unexpected boredom on holiday, that I ended up reading a couple of times (The Testament of Gideon Mack, if you’re interested), but that was about as much as I got into reading before last year.
My vocabulary’s not terrible, and I have a pretty decent grasp on grammar; but I still rely on dictionaries and thesauruses. Not totally, mind, but I often do a quick search of a word (making sure not to find the American spelling) just to make sure I’ve spelled it correctly and used it in the right context. Why? Because accuracy matters. If I’m not sure of something, there’s no way I’d take a risk in not checking it. And this goes for more than just spelling; the more I learn about sub-editing, the more I know to check everything, then check it all again (and I’ve still no doubt there are a few mistakes on this blog already).
So what of this post’s title, “Dictionary and thesaurus shame”? It occurred to me that using dictionaries and thesauruses to check or find out things was, to some people, shameful. Why?! Because, I believe, admitting you don’t know something is a big source of shame today, especially if it’s to do with your field of work.
So much pressure is put on school children with numerous tests and encouragement to be in a higher level set for classes, to fail a test or not make a higher set makes you feel shameful, to admit you don’t know something by having to look it up makes you feel shameful, to be corrected exposes your lack of knowledge and makes you feel shameful. This shame felt throughout your education creates a vicious circle that the British education system doesn’t seem to see or understand. But that’s another moan for another time.
So this, dear reader, is why I feel no shame in looking things up or asking what they mean, and regularly using dictionaries and thesauruses. Shame does not lie in not knowing, only in resisting to learn.