The death of dictionaries: Is it inevitable?

I still remember leafing through the chronological order of a bulky vocabulary book to find a word’s meaning. Dictionaries are the only databases of meaning we had when there were no smartphones. The arduous task of exploring words and their meanings was tiresome but it was fun back then.

Want to know the meaning of “Sedulous?” Don’t you care about the spelling, Google will correct it in its humblest way “Did you mean: Sedulous?” Although the results page throws a million web links at you, skimming through the initial two lines is enough for you to get what you want. With dictionaries, it hasn’t been this easier.

You hardly find dictionaries these days, even in study rooms. Not long ago, Dictionaries used to be a common asset in every household. But, the handy smart phones almost replaced the ‘abodes of vocabulary.’ Despite losing their glory, dictionaries remain to be the most commonly possessed books, sold, and read as well. The scene has reversed now.

opened beige book

Dictionaries played a pretty important role especially in the lives of students and book lovers. Eight years down the memory lane, I remember carrying a medium-sized dictionary in my already overweighed bag. As someone who defines herself as a bookworm, I still remember finding a cosy place for me, my book, and a dictionary by my side.

I still have the same dictionary in my teeny-tiny home library. But, hardly do I ever exchange a glance with my childhood literary companion. Nothing has changed much for me. I still find a cozy place for me and my book but these days it’s my smartphone by my side instead of a dictionary. Yet, little did I ever realize that I stopped referring a dictionary. The transition from dictionaries to Google has been smooth. It all happened before I even realized and I am sure that your story is pretty much the same. If you are as much a reader as I am, you too must have spent a good time with dictionaries. Then, have you ever wondered about our first ‘guides’ of language?

Although I can’t say I miss dictionaries, I don’t want them to vanish either. With the digital age, books, film, music, and television occupy very little physical space and are instantly accessible. No, you don’t have to carry a bulky book on your ‘bookcation’ anymore. This comfort, ease of usage, and accessibility have surely had a significant impact on bulky, clunky, voluminous, and hardbound books called dictionaries. The publishing of the dictionary seems like it’s shrunk.

But, the world is not yet ready to accept its demise so early. Do you want to see dictionaries vanish? Neither do I. What do you think the reason is? Is it sheer sentimentality or the emotional bond with the childhood book? Or is there something really valuable that the virtual version is not able to replicate till date?

I believe what is easy to learn doesn’t stay long. In that case, dictionaries help us imbibe the vocabulary effectively and hence, remember them longer than usual. Flipping through the thick book with the word running at the back of your mind makes your process a little more mindful. The whole process of exploring the word you want among hundreds of other words slows your process and increases your concentration. The comfort of learning a word in less than 20 seconds impacts your retention.

Dictionaries provide us with the opportunity to make accidental discoveries. On your way to find one meaning, another word grabs you attention and then one other. This whole thing becomes a dictionary-look-up session. A five to ten minute dictionary look up session equips you with better vocabulary for “character-limited” tweets and posts these days. Better vocabulary helps you convey your thoughts more clearly and concisely and make your ‘tweet/post’ stand out, don’t you think?

Usage of digital dictionary does the job pretty well. But, they can’t make the learning process harder and curious for the consumer to remember the words longer. No longer do I see thick dictionaries on office tables, in book racks, and the pocket-sized ones in people’s pockets. Dictionaries evoke the curiosity to learn, where as smart phones are distracting. On top of it, smart phones can’t be used as paper weighs, to stop doors, or even furnish the rooms.

Jokes apart, a person in possession of a voluminous dictionary was considered to be a linguist. With Google and ‘smart dictionaries,’ everyone is a linguist now. No, dictionaries didn’t outlive their utility. Us humans always wanted it easier for our lazier selves. That explains how bikes replaced bicycles, Kindles attracted library’s crowds, and Google took over dictionaries. Yet, dictionaries continue to be the sole ‘holy-books’ for language learners. There are still people, who turn to a dictionary rather than ‘googling’ it out. As long as these curious people continue to explore, the legacy of dictionary lives on.

By Navya D.