Sunday, October 10, 2010

Books That Help You Communicate Clearly

Noah Webster was an American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author. In 1806 he published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. In 1807 Webster began compiling an expanded and fully comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language; it took twenty-seven years to complete. To evaluate the etymology of words, Webster learned twenty-six languages, including Old English (Anglo-Saxon), German, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit. Webster hoped to standardize American speech, since Americans in different parts of the country used different languages. They also spelled, pronounced, and used English words differently.

Webster completed his dictionary during his year abroad in 1825 in Paris, France, and at the University of Cambridge. His book contained seventy thousand words, of which twelve thousand had never appeared in a published dictionary before. As a spelling reformer, Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessary, so his dictionary introduced American English spellings, replacing "colour" with "color", substituting "wagon" for "waggon", and printing "center" instead of "centre." He also added American words, like "skunk" and "squash," that did not appear in British dictionaries. At the age of seventy, Webster published his dictionary in 1828; it sold 2500 copies. In 1840, the second edition was published in two volumes. --source, Vision Forum sells a reproduction of this dictionary with all it's Christian connotations intact. Since that first publishing, many updates and revisions have taken place with the addition of thousands of newly adopted or created words.

A reward for sorting through a box of books I haven't missed for the six years I've lived in my current house was the discovery this week of a thrift store copy of The New International Webster's Pocket Grammar, Speech & Style Dictionary of the English Language. Although missing a few components such as accompanying examples in every area of instruction, nevertheless, every one of the 300+ pages is jam-packed with clear instruction in virtually every area of communication, spoken and written, even including a page of proofreaders' markings and how to interpret them on the last two pages.

A surprise was the chapter of almost 40 pages of foreign words and phrases common to English usage. Here's an excerpt from the forward to that chapter:
In a language like English, whose vocabulary is at least 80 percent borrowed from other language sources, it is not always easy to judge whether a word or expression should be considered as "foreign" or "naturalized." The chief sources of our foreign words and phrases are French and Latin. Other heavy contributors are Italian (particularly for musical terms), German, Greek, and Spanish. But English is a ready borrower and adapter, and we find in our list contributions from other European languages...from Semitic tongues, ... from languages of Asia, ...from the tongues of the American Indians; ... and even from the languages of the far pacific, notably Hawaiian. --p. 266
Following this excellent summation of the word-borrowing tendencies of our language is an easy-to-read explanation of the diacritical markings (pronunciation guides) of the words which follow. If you've ever been stumped at a restaurant featuring foreign words, this guide will be very helpful. Although there are many tools available in various languages that may fit the bill better than this one when travelling, here's a good place to start, especially if you are an "arm-chair" traveller.

Chapter IV provides helpful information for academic assignments such as research papers, book reports and reviews, science project reports and a section entitled, 'a precis.' If you are unfamiliar with this phrase, here is the description given:
A precis is a concise summary in your own words of the essential points of a longer piece of writing, usually one-fourth to one-third as long as the original. Learning how to do this provides excellent training in reading for comprehension and in mastering the technique of clear, concise, and accurate writing. It is a useful skill, if mastered, and will be a valuable tool both for schoolwork and in the business world. ... A precis, unlike a paraphrase, cuts wordage to the minimum, simplifying and getting to the essential meaning in very few words. It contains no details, examples or illustrations, and it does not allow any comment or interpretation on your part. The French meaning of the word, "exact," describes it accurately. --p. 225
Precise instructions for writing 'a precis,' follow this description. What a great idea! Are you rambling on with dependent clauses, semi-colons and wordiness that just won't find a conclusion? Stop and write 'a precis' before you find yourself lost in the maze of your words! What a great idea for students as well. Assign this as a daily or weekly exercise until concise writing, relying on nouns and verbs rather than modifiers, becomes easy.

Just as valuable if not more valuable are the sections on how to write letters of various types, how to write a resume, non-verbal and verbal communication, commonly misused and misspelled words and much more. I intend to purchase several copies of this valuable resource to keep on hand for gifts and may put one in every room of the house as well.

Roget's Thesaurus is an invaluable tool for any serious writer. Yes, we have availability to dictionaries and various other writing tools on our computers, but you need to learn to love to read your dictionary and thesaurus and become a word addict like me. Your writing skills will advance immeasurably. There are many different versions of the Thesaurus available now, as well as many different types of dictionaries -- dictionaries of synonyms (I think the thesaurus does about the same job here), rhyming dictionaries, Scrabble dictionaries, dictionaries for students ... on and on. Check it out.

I have a confession to make. When I was a child, I read the dictionary and encyclopedias for fun. We had Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia 12vol which my parents purchased from a traveling book salesman, I believe. I can still close my eyes and see the red bindings and the slick surface of the pages as my eyes slid over the mostly black and white images and words, gorging myself with information like a hungry child who fills his mouth too full. Now these encyclopedias are published by Britannica and are available on CD-Rom at a fraction of the price of the hardcover edition which you can still purchase for just under $1,000. I believe. I confess my delight in turning pages, rather than clicking on links. There is something wonderful about touching the paper and smelling the ink or the dusty emanations from old volumes that have been here longer and perhaps been held in the hands of other bibliophiles. 'Boring old books' can come alive if you love them long enough.

A word of caution, however, as you peruse the contents of the more modern dictionaries, thesaurus listings and encyclopedias. We live in a world that has lost its comprehension of a Christian mindset and world-view.

Believing that God is the Creator of all things and the Source of all knowledge and wisdom provides the foundation and backdrop for the Christian's belief system. "In Him [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," Colossians 2:3. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," Proverbs 1:7. But the humanists who largely dominate our educational systems today have stolen that heritage from us.

We read in the newer editions of dictionaries such as the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, definitions such as this one:
Christian:one who professes belief in Jesus Christ.
Compare that definition to the one given by Noah Webster in his 1828 dictionary:
Christian: 3.  A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety.
May I encourage you to purchase the original Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary containing definitions of words from a Christian worldview. Vision Forum's link to purchase is:

Truth is not negotiable! Choose your words and their definitions wisely.


deelel said...

Great job, Mrs Morecraft. May I know why I did not receive the link to Thursday's class from VF? Do we have class? Thanks :)

Simply me said...

Excellent post Mrs. Morecraft! That was very inturesting how the definitions from a Christian perspective were significantly different. It was something I was not aware of so thank you for posting! I especially loved what you said at the end... "Truth is not negotiable! Choose your words and their definitions wisely." An excellent point! Something I hope to be more aware of!


Becky said...

I'm sorry you didn't receive your link -- I hope you were able to sort it out with customer service at Vision Forum.
Alina, I appreciate your comments so much. Thank you for taking my comments to heart. I pray God will richly bless you through these classes.