The case of the disappearing, reappearing dictionary

I was a vora­cious read­er from a rather ear­ly age. I recall hav­ing had my read­ing lev­el, in first or sec­ond grade, assessed at that of an eighth‐grader.

My read­ing prowess could be attrib­uted to a few things, like my par­ents read­ing to me from a young age, and often encour­ag­ing me to read to them. More impor­tant­ly, if I came across a word I didn’t know and asked them what it meant, they almost always made me go look it up in the dic­tio­nary. I had a children’s dic­tio­nary that I adored, but for words that didn’t appear in there, I’d use their musty col­le­giate dic­tio­nary. This fos­tered an envi­ron­ment where lit­er­al­ly no word was beyond my com­pre­hen­sion, an empow­er­ing feel­ing for a pre‐geek with a single‐digit age!

As I grew up, I didn’t always man­age to keep read­ing with such vol­ume and tenac­i­ty, and today, while I read tons of bits and blogs from the Web, long‐form con­tent isn’t some­thing I take in a lot of. When I do, it tends to be an e‐book. (I read these, in epub for­mat, on my Android phone using the excel­lent open‐source FBRead­er. Yes, read­ing off of a small back­lit screen sucks, but this is mit­i­gat­ed by a nice serif font and the knowl­edge that, as I’m often read­ing in the dark, I wouldn’t real­ly be able to read any oth­er way.)

As I read, still I come across the occa­sion­al word I don’t know. These days, my main dic­tio­nary (either Free Dic­tio­nary Org or Lex­i­con Lite) also lives inside of my phone. FBRead­er doesn’t have its own built‐in, and to switch to anoth­er app is kind of a pain, so I’ve late­ly been find­ing myself shrug­ging off unknown terms. I have become the sort of per­son who stopped learn­ing new words.

This both­ered me, so I decid­ed that, damn the incon­ve­nience, I would start look­ing up words again. Once I tried, I learned that it actu­al­ly wasn’t so hard, after all.

The secret (if you could call it that) was to long‐hold my phone’s Home but­ton. This is the equiv­a­lent to the Alt+Tab key com­bi­na­tion in Lin­ux and Win­dows, which allows you to flip through open apps (only, in Android, it’s a list of the six most recent­ly used apps, open or oth­er­wise). As long as the dic­tio­nary is among the last six, it’ll appear in that list… as does FBRead­er, when it’s time to switch back. This is much more enjoy­able than going back to the home screen, flip­ping open the apps draw­er, etc.

I guess that’s a pass­able not‐so‐new‐anymore year’s res­o­lu­tion: to leave no word un‐lexicized.

3 thoughts on “The case of the disappearing, reappearing dictionary”

  1. I have become the sort of per­son who stopped learn­ing new words.”

    This was me up until I got my G1. With the offline dic­tio­nary app I found, I put a short­cut to it on my home screen. Lit­tle by lit­tle I’m try­ing to get into the habit of look­ing up words I don’t know.

    By the way, that children’s dic­tio­nary sounds real­ly famil­iar, what was it again? And that musty dic­tio­nary was yucky. I hat­ed hav­ing to resort to look­ing words up in it!

    1. All I remem­ber about the children’s dic­tio­nary was that it was a thick soft­cov­er book and I think the cov­er was in black and white.

      And as for the musty col­lege one, are you sure we’re talk­ing about the same one? There’s the brown‐covered one that’s actu­al­ly okay… I think that’s in my room at home, but there was also a black‐covered one that was kind of smelly and the cov­er was kind of falling off. I don’t think I’ve seen that one in years!

      1. I’m talk­ing about the brown one I use to have to hunt all over your room to use. The pages were so thin and I would I get that newspaper‐yuck feel­ing all over my fin­gers when I would use it. I don’t recall a black one though.

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