Friday, April 30, 2010

Dictionaries are fun!

McDonald's Unhappy Over McJob Addition To Dictionary

It's true. Dictionaries are great. They can give us so much information. Did you know that you can use a dictionary for lots more than spelling and definitions? Try some of the following links to check out the word 'blog', for instance. The first three are British English, with American variations, while the Merriam-Webster's is an American dictionary. They are all designed specifically for advanced learners of English, but are great for native speakers too.
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
Macmillan English Dictionary
Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary
What did you find when you looked up 'blog'? The definition, pronunciation (UK or American variants, but not Australian, unfortunately), grammatical information (it's a countable noun, which means you can make it plural), related words and example sentences. How's that for help with your English? If you look up other words you'll find additional information, such as labels that tell you when to use the words (eg formal, engineering, legal etc) and collocations (words that go before or after it, such as prepositions like 'on' or 'in'). That means you can work out how to use the word appropriately in a sentence. Now try 'possum'. You'll find slight variations in most of the dictionaries, giving you a different perspective on the animal.
Of course, dictionaries come in paper format too, and some are available as applications for mobile phones, or in pocket translators. What dictionaries do you have? Check your pocket translator - you might be surprised at what you find there!

One word I've been asked about recently is the term 'boyfriend'. Is this only appropriate for younger people? How old can a boyfriend be? Could two people in their fifties describe each other as boyfriend and girlfriend? There seems to be no real agreement on this, so I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, whatever age you are. Somehow, 'girlfriend' seems more acceptable for women, whatever their age, while 'boyfriend' sounds a bit young. It's a complicated issue though, like the question 'How many hairs does a bald man have?'. A man can have three hairs, say, and still be described as bald. Or 25 hairs. Or 50 hairs. Or . . . When does he cease to be bald? So at what age, if any, are the labels 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend' inappropriate? And is there an alternative word? One friend prefers 'partner', but that seems to imply the two people live at the same address, whereas the boyfriend/girlfriend label suggests that the person is not there permanently. Another friend suggested an acronym, such as POOR (Person in an Ongoing Optimal Relationship). Can you imagine that in introductions though? 'This is my poor friend James/Mary . . .' Hm. Maybe not. What are your thoughts on this?

To round things off, I thought I'd go to a completely different topic, for a laugh. Have you ever found going to school a bit of a drag? This young girl in Ireland did. She seems to delight in prank phone calls. I'm not entirely convinced that it's spontaneous though, as there are various language features that suggest it may be scripted. See what you think. She's also keen to find a boyfriend - presumably a youngish one, since she's only 8 years old. Now that's a case where 'boyfriend' would be the appropriate term.

Don't forget to add your thoughts to the blog. If we can come up with new terms for boyfriend/girlfriend they could even appear in a dictionary!