The Forgotten Dictionary

Last week while I was reading through the first ten pages of a chapter from a PhD thesis, I came across the word judgement. Since the piece was written in American English, my first thought was that the –e has to go. The moment I made this conclusion was the same moment doubt set in – both judgment and judgement are perfectly fine. Because the –e has no function pronunciation wise, I figured that the variant with the –e must be RP (Received Pronunciation). Again I doubted as I was pretty sure I’d seen the –e less variant in RP, too. However, I wasn’t asked to edit the text so I could’ve left it as it was and continued reading, but that just doesn’t do it for me (although I wish I could, now and again.)

Half Forgotten and Dust Catching

I first checked the Internet, which is usually the quickest. I did get hits but the top four results didn’t give me the answer I was looking for. Not in the mood of giving it another try, I went for my OED (Oxford English Dictionary) hardcopy. Looking back, I could have gone to the OED website as well, but at least I used my half forgotten dust catching dictionary again.

The entry was far more interesting than I had imagined. Besides the definition and origin, it had a little grey box with the information I was hoping it would have:

The entry reminded me of what the dictionary offered besides the definitions. I stopped reading the ten pages and instead leafed through the dictionary looking at the grey boxes. Take, for example, prime minister:

What are the chance of my ever using this information? Not much. But the chance of my remembering this – quite likely.

This was one of my favourites I read that afternoon (especially the last sentence):

Besides the grey boxes, it had never occurred to me that the OED had appendices about the PMs of Britain; the presidents of America; the periodic table or even emoticons. I ended up spending my afternoon reading a dictionary for fun.

Cecile

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10 Comments to “The Forgotten Dictionary”

  1. God, I love dictionaries. My freshman composition TA (University of Illinois) ranted at those in my class who spelled “judgement” with the “e.” He was a law student. Fitting. Can I say again just how much i love dictionaries? Have several on my bookshelf, including the compact OED. No finer reading in all of literature.

    • Hi Jilanne,

      Some people can go ballistics over small things. I once made the epic mistake of writing Neanderthals with a capital N in a paper for a Dutch course. The professor went on and on about how I could have made such a mistake. Apparently, in Dutch, the word is not written with a capital. What was I thinking? I left after ten minutes, I figured having a coffee was more worthwhile than listening to him ranting.

      But dictionaries are very cool indeed. I’ve got one English dictionary (I think) but I do have three Irish-English ones and an English-Welsh one. :)

  2. Ah ha – I am not so strange after all. My daughter thinks I am very off because I ‘read’ my dictionary. Mine is the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. It is in two beautifully cloth-bound volumes and came with its own magnifying glass to be able to read it.
    I am not fond of the word ‘get’ in any of its forms. We often hear people these days saying ‘I have got a something’ – what is wrong with ‘I have a something’ ? As for ‘gotten’ – words fail me …….

    • Hi Kerry,

      No you’re not the only one. My boyfriend found it a bit peculiar too and made a picture of it, just to be sure he wasn’t imagining it.

      ‘Get’ is a very informal verb to me and its forms look a bit strange too got and gotten but I have a similar problem with the past simple of forsake, forsook. Not to mention some strange Dutch verbs of which I’m still not sure what the past simple and past participle are.

      It does make language interesting.

  3. The word judgement (or judgment) always gets me, too. When I was helping my son with his phonics a couple years ago, I could not explain to him why both spellings are in the dictionary but his teacher marked it wrong when he spelled it “judgement.” I will have to share with him. :) For the record, I’m American, but “judgment” just looks wrong to me.

    • Hi Jeannette,

      It looks a bit weird having a dgm cluster. That -e between the g and m feels natural. I don’t know what the standard rule is in American English for this word. Then again teachers are strange people, perhaps your son’s teacher dislikes British English spelling.

  4. I really enjoy looking up word origins too.

  5. Words are not only powerful, they’re fun too!

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