Puzzling over differences in words

Published 12:22 am Saturday, January 3, 2015

Words can be so puzzling at times.

Have you ever been deeply absorbed in your reading, and then stopped short because an unfamiliar word appeared? You either did not know the meaning or were not sure how to pronounce it. If you are into electronic gizmos like I-Pads, Kindles, Nooks, etc., you can pull up the definition of those words with a tap if you want to. But if you are reading a hard back or paperback, it gets a little more complicated. Maybe you can ignore it and not even break your reading speed. Not I. If I am unfamiliar with the pronunciation, I stop long enough to divide it in syllables. In times past, I turned to a dictionary, just as I did when I did not know the definition of a word and could not figure it out from the way it was used.

Another puzzle—have you ever wondered why the last syllables of bicycle and motorcycle are pronounced differently? And have you noticed it is the same way with tricycle and motorcycle?

Here is something else I puzzle over. It frustrates me when authors insert foreign words in a novel without providing a glossary. Most of those words are not usually in our English dictionaries. At times, I cannot even distinguish whether the word is French, German, Spanish or whatever. Imagine your frustration as you sit propped against a couple of pillows in bed reading and run into one of those puzzling words. It stops you cold like me and interrupts your concentration. I remember reading a book containing three novels. The first carried a 1956 copyright, the second a 1958, the last a 1962. The first one was set in North Africa, sprinkled with words I referred to as “I wonders.”

When I run upon an unfamiliar English word and take time to use a dictionary, I realize it helps me build my vocabulary. But those words that are difficult to pronounce distract me every time I see them in the novel. They slow me down until I think I can pronounce them correctly.

My husband enjoyed dictionaries. At my urging, he reluctantly began using a computer with a word processor program. It was not long until he bought a couple of dictionary programs with word pronunciation features. As a minister, he found the Bible dictionary program helpful when he composed his sermons. We both enjoyed looking up words we were not exactly sure of the pronunciation. Maybe we had seen them in print but never heard them used. Just one click revealed we had pronounced one wrong.

Several years ago, I purchased an American English and British learner’s dictionary program with pronunciations. We were fascinated listening to words in our American English pronounced the British way.

I admit I now often grab my I-Pad instead of my heavy dictionary to search for a definition or pronunciation of puzzling words. Yet, despite iPad’s convenience, I prefer holding a “real” book in my hands.