October 28th, 2009

Word of the Day

I am a “word-a-day” addict. I don’t have a word of the day calendar on my desk, but I subscribe to two word a day email services and I keep links to several others. I gave up on expanding my vocabulary when I hit the half-century mark. That was ten years ago. I decided then that if I did not know enough words yet, I had better find the cashier and leave the casino, perhaps because I live in fear of the day that my language processing stack overwrites my control registers. As a computer scientist I know this could happen and the havoc that could ensue.

I know a lot of words. I’ve have been lucky, or foolish, enough to have studied many different subjects in the sixty years I have had the pleasure of dwelling on this green and glorious earth. I’ve been dumb kid, a farmer, a mathematician, an anthropologist, a sinologist, a carpenter, and a computer engineer, roughly in that order. It has been a string of exposures to different concepts, modes of thought, ways of describing things, and faces put to the world, and each one required new vocabulary words. And I passed PhD level examinations in German, Modern Chinese, Classical Chinese and French. Consequently, somewhere deep in the language centers of my brain, many words are stored. Enough to threaten a whole range of touchy control registers leading to all manner of mayhem.

Given this wealth of words, why the obsession with “word-a-day”? Depth is the answer. I don’t look for new words, but I crave better understanding of the words I already know. Here is a collection of links to word-a-day sites.

http://wordsmith.org/words/today.html

The Word A Day site. This site celebrates the English language with words that are not necessarily rare or challenging, but always interesting. The words are organized into weekly themes, and reflect the wide ranging tastes of the site master, Anu Garg, whom I have never met, but revere as a fellow computer professional and lover of language.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/mwwod.pl

A daily word from the venerable American dictionary publishing house that took heat in the early sixties for describing American English as it is used rather than prescribing ideal usage. This decision dismayed those who had deified “Webster’s” as an ultimate moral authority.  The “Did You Know?” sections are a treat for word lovers because the M-W dictionary authors occasionally reveal etymological detail unavailable elsewhere.

http://www.oed.com/cgi/display/wotd

The word of the day from the Oxford English Dictionary is the heavy weight from the definitive historical dictionary of the English language. Of the words of the day, this one I either skip or study at length. Nothing in between. Unparalleled history and depth for word lovers.

http://www.wordcentral.com/buzzword/buzzword.php

The Daily Buzzword is Merriam-Webster’s word a day for eleven to fourteen year olds. Surprisingly, I find this is a very practical site. A working writer has to be cautious when using unfamiliar words. You can easily put off readers by using words they are not familiar with. Rare words become the center of attention and you will be called on the slightest error in their use. The Daily Buzzwords are reminders of good solid words that I want to be the mainstay of my working vocabulary. The Daily Buzzword authors’ word choices are surprisingly useful to a writer for adults. The other word of the day sites are entertainment. This one is for serious work.

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