The Dictionary Challenge Finale Part 1: A Lexical Overview

It’s Saturday morning and the sun is streaming through the living room window. Ten o’clock has not yet come and already I feel lost, unsure what to do with this beautiful, glorious day I have, all of sudden, before me. I have just spent the past two hours with the dictionary – the last two hours I will ever spend with it in this way.

There are so many words

While my vocabulary has definitely grown as a result of my time with this project, I am also fully aware that most of the words didn’t stick with me. I kept two notebooks over the course of the past year which I can revisit to be reminded of those entries I deemed worthy enough to make note of but still forgot as I tried to cram thousands and thousands of others into my brain.

When I reflect on the sheer amount of words we have, I get amazed that we can even communicate properly. Language is so complex and also so incomplete. We have so many words that a single person can’t possibly know them all, yet there are still gaps in our lexis. If my language doesn’t have a word to describe something exactly, another language will and we don’t have a problem with stealing it. Where we are with the type of English spoken in Canada today is an evolution of language influenced and changed by the mingling and intertwining of different groups of people and their languages. We have German and French and Japanese and Latin words (among many others, of course) in our common lexis and to me, English doesn’t even seem like its own language anymore, having borrowed so many parts and so many words from elsewhere.Reading with Charley

So here we are. There are so many words (in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary) and I’ve read them all.

I have published an A to Z list of my favourite entries, an extremely condensed list of all those that made it into my notebooks from the past year, and you can see them in the post titled Favourite Words A to Z.

From the 300,000 words, senses and definitions, from the 2,200 uniquely Canadian words and senses, from the 7,000 idiomatic expressions, from the 5,500 biographical entries, from the 5,600 place names… I have narrowed it down to just two entries to share with you.

These are my absolute favourite words:

Elegiac – having a pleasing quality of gentle and wistful mournfulness

As I have said many times before, words speak to me for different reasons and this one is a prime example. The word itself feels a little awkward, but the definition is soft and I love the way it describes this particular feeling. Like walking the quiet streets of your hometown so many years later or catching the smell of something specific that transports you to some distant place of your past, it encompasses this feeling I have of being so grateful for all the moments I have lived, while also lamenting that they are gone.

This definition is aimed primarily at works of art that elicit this feeling, but it really has a much wider appeal for me. It is also related to an elegy which is a song or poem of lamentation, especially for the dead. Again, this word isn’t necessarily limited to just these things. It’s a beautiful word and it should be used wherever this feeling exists.

Bedazzle – confuse by excess of brilliance

I love this definition. The word isn’t new to me in any way, however, I only ever considered it as another word for “stunning,” but it so much more. There are people that function on this other level and you can recognize their genius even if you can’t understand it and that’s what this word is. It’s not about glitz and glamour and beautiful people or magic tricks. It’s about the people who change the game, who make progress happen, who are so brilliant at whatever it is they do – be it music or athletics or science or business or whatever – that the rest of us can’t even comprehend it. You’ve got to have respect for that.

Reading the Dictionary

And now, having read the entire unabridged second edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, I don’t need to read anything ever again. Everything from here on out is just a remix. Right?

All About Those Brands

Coming across brand names and band names in the dictionary was interesting. Some you just had to wonder what they were thinking. Like the band Incubus. This is “a male demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women.” Not exactly what I’d want to name my band after. Even Yahoo is wondersome as it is “a coarse, brutish, uncivilized person” which comes from the name of an imaginary race from Gulliver’s Travels. Yahoo is a fun thing to shout on a rope swing, but when you’re naming yourself surely you should take into consideration other implications.Reading the Dictionary

Nike, however, got it right. Nike is the goddess of victory.

But then there is Avalon and various businesses use this as part of their name. Avalon Events. Avalon Candles. Avalon This. Avalon That. What it means? The kingdom of the dead. (I hear those Avalon Event parties are killer.)

There’s also the band Passion Pit which is “a place where people engage in sexual activity.” There’s the indie rock band the Noisettes, which is “a small round piece of meat” in singular form. Then there’s Megadeath which is “the death of 1 million people, especially as a unit in estimating the casualties of war” of which the band Megadeth, drops the “a” from. And when you think about it, it’s not really as cool and metal as it seems, because it’s more trivializing to all the people who have died in war than it is cool.

Sure, it’s just a name… but what I’ve learned is that words and how we use them really do matter. It shapes our world.

Bonus Knowledge

Along with learning what words mean, I have picked up a lot of what I’ll call bonus knowledge. Here is a random smattering of things I have learned:

Bikini (as in the bathing suit) comes from the Island Bikini which was a site for testing nuclear weapons. A bikini is named after this from the supposed “explosive” effect. A calzone comes from an Italian word meaning “trouser leg.” Cilantro is fresh coriander. Purple used to be called purpuran. Flat leaved parsley has more flavour than curly parsley. Einstein was a pacifist.  Karaoke is Japanese and means “empty orchestra.” A muskox is a goat-antelope. Nice originally came from Middle English meaning stupid, wanton via Old French for silly, simple. A crocus is also called Prairie Smoke. Rohypnol now turns blue when dissolved in a drink. Snoop comes from a Dutch word meaning “eat on the sly.” Tragedy comes from Greek tragōidia, apparently meaning “goat song.” And finally, utopia is Latin and literally means “no place.”

How disheartening.

The World In Which We Live

It is not surprising that a utopia is only imaginary or hypothetical, that it is “no place.” I learned many, many things spending time with the dictionary. I expected to learn things, but I didn’t expect for the dictionary to tell me how horrible we are.

I am not naive. I alternate between pessimism and optimism. I believe we are all capable of goodness, but that greed – more than anything – will be our ruin. I see the potential for a peaceful, happy world, but I see it as a mirage because you can’t have true anarchy. The world will never survive on principles of goodness or morality or ethics. Someone will always ruin it.

You see, the dictionary has many entries for people who have done such amazing things. People like Terry Fox and Harriet Tubman and Albert Einstein. However, it is also filled with many more things that don’t speak to the greatness we are capable of, but rather to the malevolence that seems inescapable. Like the entry for Giordano Bruno who was burnt at the stake for believing in an infinite universe with many worlds. Or Charlotte Corday who assassinated the revolutionary leader Marat in his bath and was subsequently guillotined. Or William Tyndale who was strangled and burnt at the stake for translating the Bible.

While there are sloughs of names in the dictionary for people who have been killed or executed throughout history, we don’t have to focus on individuals to get a sense of humanity. Let’s look to the Children’s Crusade, when tens of thousands of kids were organized for a crusade to the Holy Land, except that most of them didn’t make it, instead being sold into slavery.

There were eight more Crusades. There was also the Thirteen Years’ War, the Eighty Years’ War, the Nine Year’s War, the Seven Year’s War, the Thirty Years’ War, and the Hundred Year’s War. There were civil wars, wars of revolution, rebellion wars, and independence wars. There was the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Napoleonic wars, the Wars of the Roses, two World Wars – and this is only a few of the wars that this world has suffered.

We have always been fighting each other.

So much so, that we have terms like cannon fodder, “people, esp. soldiers regarded merely as material to be expended in war” and pogrom, “an organized massacre, originally esp. of Jews in Russia; an organized, officially tolerated attack on any community or group” and war of attrition, “a prolonged war (e.g. WWI) in which military strategy is based on the calculation that the enemy’s manpower and resources will be exhausted before one’s own as a result of numerous battles, usually involving massive losses on both sides.” Humans should not be treated as disposable. There’s something very wrong with all of this.

But let’s not stop there. We’re also the ones who created the caltrop, “an iron ball with 4 spikes placed so one is always facing up, used to impede cavalry horses.”  We created the cluster bomb, “an anti-personnel bomb spraying smaller bombs or shrapnel when detonated.” We created germ warfare, “the systematic spreading of micro-organisms to cause disease in an enemy population.” We created Agent Orange, “a highly poisonous herbicide used as a defoliant, esp. by US forces during the Vietnam War.” We also created nuclear weapons, machine guns, cigarettes, gas chambers, the electric chair, Sarin Gas – it’s almost astonishing all the things we have come up with to kill ourselves.

Of course, absence can also be deadly. Imagine you are dying and someone has the cure but won’t give it to you. That’s not too far off the definition of an orphan drug, “a drug that is useful but is not commercially viable for the pharmaceutical company producing it unless it is granted tax credits and other special status.” Essentially meaning you’re going to die because they can’t profit off saving your life in the worst case or meaning you will remain sick or hurt or disabled when you could be healthy.

And remember, even the great moments and accomplishments of mankind are mired with stories of hardship and brutality. Terry Fox had cancer; Harriet Tubman was born into slavery; and, Albert Einstein was barred from holding an official university teaching position in Germany for being Jewish in the lead up to WWII.

These entries tell a story of the world we live in based on what has happened. However, it does not speak so much to the relationship of language to society. So please, let me indulge you just a little bit further.

The Language We Use

The hardest thing I had to wrap my head around was that the dictionary doesn’t decide who we are, instead it shows us who we are. It does not have an obligation to shield us from the harsh language we use against ourselves and so there is a plethora of entries for derogatory terms and malicious words. The dictionary does not decide what words mean. We do that in how we use them. The dictionary simply defines the meaning that we ourselves have created.

What I found, based solely on the words compiled in the dictionary, is the level of sexism that is apparent in society. I will be the first to admit that everyone is influenced by their own idiosyncrasies, and because I am a woman who experiences the inequalities of my gender, I am more sensitive to gender issues. I am more likely to see what may not be apparent to others in regards to the severe disjunct between how men and women are seen and treated and the words used to perpetuate this.

There are a handful of terms used for men, specifically, that are derogatory. Terms like dick, “a stupid, annoying boy or man” and prick, “an objectionable man.” These types of words were few. Terms for men mostly consisted of entries like Casanova, “a man notorious for seducing women” and hunk, “a sexually attractive, well built, and ruggedly handsome man.”

There is also this entry for Old man, “an affectionate form of address to a boy or man.”

Yet, when we begin to talk about women, everything changes. An Old woman is a derogatory term for a wife, mother, or girlfriend in the first sense and a fussy or timid man in the second sense. Over the course of the entire dictionary challenge, I kept note of the words used to describe women and nearly all of them are defined in one of the following ways:

  • A woman regarded as a means of sexual gratification; women considered sexually
  • A very sexually attractive woman
  • A malicious or spiteful woman; a quarrelsome woman
  • A woman regarded as unattractive, sleazy, sexually promiscuous, or immoral
  • A prostitute or promiscuous woman; a woman considered to have an overly sexual image
  • A woman, esp. an older one, thought unlikely to marry
  • An ugly or malevolent woman; a dominant or aggressive woman
  • A woman having or affecting scholarly or literary interests

This is what women are reduced to through our language. There is only one word for a woman “having or affecting scholarly or literary interests.” That term is blue stocking and it is still a derogatory term.

As a woman, these are all the things I supposedly am:

Adventuress, Ass, Babe, Bag, Baggage, Ball and Chain, Battle-axe, Besom, Bimbo, Bint, Bit of fluff/stuff, Bitch, Blue stocking, Bombshell, Boy toy, Broad, Bubblehead, Bunny, Cat, Crone, Crow, Crumpet, Cunt, Damaged goods, Dame, Ditzy, Diva, Dog, Doll, Dragon lady, Drab, Dumb blonde, Fancy lady, Feminazi, Floozie, Fluff, Fox, Frump, Fury, Gill, Gold digger, Grim alkin, Grrrl, Hag, Harlot, Harridan, Heifer, Hellcat, Ho, Hussy, Ice queen, Jade, Jailbait, Jezebel, Lolita, Looker, Lorelei, Man-eater, Minx, Nubile, Nympho, Nymphet, Old bat, Old lady, Old woman, Piece, Piece of ass, Plain, Plain Jane, Poontang, Pussy, Scarlet woman, Scrubber, Sex bomb, Sex kitten, She-devil, Shrew, Skank, Skirt, Slag, Slattern, Slut, Sole, Spinster, Strumpet, Stuff, Bit of Stuff, Tail, Tart, Tarty, Termagant, Totty, Tramp, Trollop, Trout, Vamp, Vixen, the Weaker sex, Whore, Witch, Young Lady.

According to the dictionary, every one of these terms has a derogatory or offensive definition.

We can go further and use language to learn even more about the patriarchal tendencies of society. Masculine means “manly, vigorous.” To help spell this out, the definition of vigour is “powerful operative force; intensity of effect or operation.” Now, on the other side, Feminine means “womanly, effeminate.” Effeminate means “characterized by or proceeding from weakness, delicacy, etc.”

We all know women are not weak, so why is femininity equated to womanliness to weakness? Virago once meant “a strong and courageous woman, esp. a warrior” but that is the archaic definition and now it means “a domineering, abusive, or ill-tempered woman.” This is where the evolution of our language and words shows us the mentality and constructs of our society. We have turned our strong women into something none of us wants to be.

Women are also much more sexualized than men and where men are celebrated for their inherent sexuality, women are meant to feel ashamed, yet again. Make an honest woman of is a phrase that means to “marry (esp. a pregnant woman)” Of easy virtue, is a phrase for a woman that means sexually promiscuous. On the shelf, is a phrase for women that are past the age of when they might be expected to marry. Honour is “chastity, esp. of a woman.”

Similarly, give oneself only applies to women and it means to “yield sexually.” Guess what? In consensual terms, women don’t yield sexually. They have sex.

But then again, we use language to try and reinforce the idea that women don’t have sex. They’re just sex objects. The fifth sense of the term possess is “have sexual intercourse with (esp. a woman)” The fifty-ninth sense of the term take is “have sexual intercourse with.” And while ravishing means “extraordinarily beautiful” the root word ravish means “commit rape on.”

The way in which women are regarded in society is not surprising when you consider that pudendum is a word for the genitals, particularly of a woman and it comes from a Latin word that means “be ashamed.”

Can you see the connection here? Can you hear the oppression lurking in everyday words? There is a massive preoccupation with women’s sexuality. Our language allows for women to be only a few things, though we are so much more, and when we are strong or smart we get labelled in all the wrong ways. I’m not suggesting that we need to bring our men down; I am suggesting that we need to bring our women up. We need to raise the bar. Change the standard.

People hear the word feminism and they have it all wrong. It is simply, “the advocacy of equality of the sexes, esp. through the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of women.” It’s about the liberation of women from oppressive tendencies in society. Is equality so much to ask?

Women are not possessions. Women are not objects. Women are not weak.

So remember that the words you use have very deep implications. They are not just words. They are a reflection of your beliefs. So whenever you speak or write, know what you’re really saying, what you’re conveying to the world and the ideas that you are perpetuating.

We may not write the definitions in ink or bind the book, but we are the ones who create the dictionary.

To continue reading, see The Dictionary Challenge Finale Part 2: A Swan Song

Advertisements

The Dictionary Challenge Finale Part 2: A Swan Song

With the turn of a single page, it is all over. I have read the entire Canadian Oxford Dictionary and all  of it’s 4.6 pounds of definitions.

It feels like we have gone through so much together. We have travelled together. Have shared a bed together. A couch. A floor. A table. A patch of grass. A park bench. We have spent meals together. Early mornings. Late nights. We have even gone hiking together.

Like a tumultuous relationship, I have in varying degrees loved it, hated it, felt disgusted by it, felt empowered by it, resented it, been suspicious of it, been encouraged by it, and respected it. While these emotions can’t accurately be applied to the book itself, they come from the way in which I have engaged with the words that have been chosen, defined and put to page; the words that are a comprehensive representation of my language and the society I am a part of.

Reading the dictionary with CharleyI have spent approximately 370 hours with this gigantic tome over the course of 51 weeks, having finished the challenge with just 11 days to spare.

That’s over two weeks (of full 24 hours days) of my life that I gave to this project. In the way that some jokes are “too soon” to be funny, it’s too soon to decipher which feeling will triumph: the pride from having accomplished this monumental task, the appreciativeness of having learned, grown and expanded my vocabulary, or the soft regret that only a perniciously obstinate victor can feel.

Like many undertakings, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know how hard. Foolishly I had thought I could read the whole thing in 6 months. Within a few days I realized that was not an appropriate goal and gave myself a year, meaning I would have to read 5 pages a day in order to finish in one year’s time. Even so, I fell behind quickly and steadily; at my worst point I was 242 pages behind. And I paid the price. From there, it took me nearly ten months to get back on track. During that time I had to work so much harder to make up what I had lost, but even that wasn’t good enough sometimes. I read for hours at a time until my eyes were red and I had to re-read words because they were starting to blur together. Some weeks I would fall behind more, but eventually I managed to pull even and in the weeks before my year was up I slowly got ahead.

It took me, on average, about an hour to read 5 pages. That depended on how many words I would scribble in my notebook or how many times I would have to re-read a word to understand it. For the sake of honesty: many chemical entries or overtly scientific concepts, I would read once – not really understand – and move on. And I won’t pretend that I now know every single word. I have read them all, but that doesn’t mean I know them all.

Again, this one book is the equivalent of about 26 average sized novels. Reading a book every two weeks doesn’t seem too difficult, after all, 5 years ago I read a book a week for a year. Despite loving to read, that was a difficult challenge, but this one was a whole other beast. There is no captivating story line. Characters make brief appearances, never to be spoken of again. It is all reference material. It took longer to travel 5 of these pages than 30 pages of a novel, trying to sound out unfamiliar words and truly understand those that were more complex. Often a word would cause me to pause and just sit there contemplating it. Or I would get bored, lose focus and have to backtrack and re-read a page. Those moments were particularly disheartening. My best advice in this regard is to be present. If you’re not, you just end up wasting more time. And time, well, that is really one of our most precious unrenewable resources.

Which brings me to the greatest takeaways of this challenge.

Life Lessons Learned With My Nose in a Dictionary

The two greatest lessons I learned from this challenge almost contradict themselves. First, I realized that a person has more time than they think. If you truly want to do something, if you honestly commit to it – you will find the time. Whether it’s pre-dawn hours in the morning, late nights with red-rimmed eyes, or precious minutes squeezed in between bites of food and beers with friends and daily chores and all the other moments that make up your life. We always say that we’re so busy – and we are – but we choose that. We choose to scroll through social media platforms. We choose to exercise. We choose to watch television. We choose to read. We choose nights with friends, time with family, hikes in the woods, days at the beach. We have more choice in our life than sometimes we like to admit. We choose so much and some of it has purpose, some of it is required, and some of it is a waste.

Idle moments are necessary. No one can run at full steam around the clock. You will exhaust yourself. But when you commit to doing something, you will be surprised about how you can shuffle your schedule around, how you can seemingly create more hours in a day.

Case in point. My other half began writing a novel. Then decided to also train for a marathon. And also works full time, while occasionally doing freelance work. Most of this novel has been written between the hours of 5:30 and 7:30 in the morning, before a full day of work, commuting, and now with after-work training that just yesterday consisted of an 11 mile run.

But today, after nearly two years of tireless working, the first draft of that novel has been completed. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way for it.

Reading the dictionary while campingNow for the second thing I learned: while we have more time than we realize – we still don’t have time infinity. We want to do so much – we have so many ideas, so many dreams, so many desires.

For example: I want to start a hobby-based business. I want to get into shape. I want to make dinners that are as good as my mother’s down-home country cooking. I want to learn to do my own taxes. I want to understand economics. I want to make home videos that capture everyday moments. I want more family in my life. I want to go camping, canoeing, roadtripping, swimming, hiking. I want to can fruit, pick berries, plant a garden.

These are all tangible things. They just require time. But – and this is where it almost seems like a contradiction of the first point – there really isn’t enough time for everything that we want. So we must choose wisely. Because there is enough time for what is important.

And what’s important depends on you.

A couple years ago someone told me that it’s not accurate to say that you don’t have time. You can only say that it’s not a priority right now. I hated it. Every time I did something that didn’t align with my goals because of “time”, that famous voice that sits in the back of a person’s mind would pipe up and say “it’s obviously not a priority.”

You can’t argue with it because it’s true. So even though I hated it because I felt guilt about choosing one thing over another, I respect it so much more. I like to flip it around when I’m feeling lethargic and ask “is this a priority?” and sometimes that’s enough to get me going in the right direction. We need reminders of why we’re doing what we do because it can be easy to lose sight of that.

A third lesson is patience. Not all great things take time, but many do. This is where I struggle the most. I always want to be standing at the finish line hoisting the trophy above my head. This is where I have such great respect for my other half. Two years is a long time. (Some say I have commitment issues) But finishing that first draft came from diligently working away as a handful of words in the beginning turned into pages and pages stretching across all this time into a completed novel.

It’s so easy to look at where you want to be and give up. It seems so far away, so monumental, so impossible – so we quit before we even really try for it. “Every journey begins with a single step” and “one foot in front of the other” are such tired old clichés and they really rub me the wrong way, yet, I have to admit, begrudgingly, that there is truth to them.

As I look at the dictionary – The Behemoth – I can’t Reading the dictionary on the patioimagine doing it again. Taken all at once is seems impossible. However, I remember opening it for the first time and slowly getting to work. An hour later, I had only read 3 pages. 1,812 to go.

While it didn’t necessarily keep me on track, having a daily goal of 5 pages made this challenge much more manageable. Although a daily goal of 5 pages would allow me to finish in one year’s time, that meant there were no days off and that was a big mistake. So, a word to the wise, before you embark on a challenge, make sure you consider all parts of it and make a realistic plan.

Be patient, but be committed. You will get there eventually. It might take longer than you want, but don’t ever quit. You can fail and you can take time off, but don’t quit. Victory depends on you showing up.

A Blog Dedicated to the Underdogs

I haven’t really talked much about why I began this blog. For the most part I’m a very private person so it’s surprising that I would put myself out there like this. Initially, it all began when I made the second biggest move of my life (at the time). After university, I moved to a tiny town in northern Alberta for work. I considered it my year of exile. I knew no one and didn’t think there was anything there for me other than an opportunity to write for a living and so I planned to stay for a single year to get experience before moving on. (I ended up staying two years, made some of the most incredible friends, had the best summer of my life, and most incredibly – fell in love. Things don’t always go according to plan, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

I spent my first two weeks living in a hotel mapping out how to make the most of this exile. It began as somewhat of a bucket list – a list of things I wanted to not just do, but accomplish. The first was to solve a Rubik’s cube. I did that within a couple weeks.

Then, I wanted to see just what I was capable of. Having been raised on a farm, meat was a staple of my diet, to say the least, and I wanted to see if I could go vegan for 3 months. So I did that. Then I wanted to read a book a week for a year. So I did that too. Soon, people were interested in these “challenges” and I realized that they could identify with the part of the challenge that was about pushing yourself to accomplish something.

It was that which prompted me to share the experience and begin Exit Sideways.

Truth be told, I have always wanted to inspire people. I am not an incredible human being and that’s what I wanted this blog to be about: anybody can accomplish nearly anything. While I take on random challenges that most people can’t directly relate to, I wanted people to see the process behind it all. The struggles, the set-backs, the highs, the lows, the failures, and ultimately the successes.

We always see success stories of high profile people. We only see the underdog story once they’ve achieved so-called greatness and I believe that because of that we have a sort of mentality that says “well, there’s something special about them. They’re not an ordinary person like me.” I wanted to show that underdog story, not from the perspective of someone who has somehow “made it,” but from the perspective of a regular person striving to accomplish something, to be something better, to say “I am capable” and to go for it.

I began this for the underdogs. The folks who didn’t believe in themselves. Who didn’t think that they were special. Who looked up to those who had reached out and taken hold of their dreams.

I started this for those people because that is who we all are until we’re the ones standing there with our dreams in our hands. We think those who have success have some sort of “it” factor. Yes, some people have more talent or more skill, but what sets people apart is those who work for it. Hard work and commitment can accomplish more than that of talent. Most of the time, it’s a regular person who worked hard and dared to actually try for greatness. No, your goal is probably not to read the dictionary, but whatever it is that you want, the struggle is always the same.

So I am no one and everyone. What I have done is not what you will do. But if you look back through these challenges, past the lackadaisical writing, you’ll see someone struggling to achieve something. I don’t always win. And that’s important because no matter what you do, you will fail many times. I just hope that you don’t give up.

Persistence is key.

Now, for the Swan Song

Every challenge, I learn something about myself or about life. However, I learned the most valuable lessons during the dictionary challenge and I had to learn them the hard way. The reason I have such conflicting emotions about this challenge is that every time I look at The Behemoth – which took hours and days of my life from me – I see what I gained, but I also see what I lost. Even though I am proud of what I accomplished and have learned a lot, there is also that empty feeling where the same voice that had urged me on, despite many days of wanting to quit, is now whispering “what’s next?”

I still cannot decide if this voice wears a halo or horns.

The dictionary and the two notebooks I have nearly filled with insights and favourite words sits in the corner while I play with my cat, exercise, make food and try to get used to the freedom that has been suddenly thrust upon me.

Was it worth it?

That damn voice can be an asshole sometimes.

Over the past year, I have moved vertically across the country from Yellowknife, one of Canada’s most northerly cities, to the southern B.C. city of Kelowna. I have read two other books. I began a new job. I discovered that wine isn’t just rotten grape juice. I shed my parka for shorts. I have won an award. I have gained weight. I have climbed a figurative mountain and many literal mountains. I have played hockey games and softball games. I have seen the inside of a gym. I have been a broomball champion. I have lost. And I have won.

I have also read the entire unabridged Canadian Oxford Dictionary cover to cover.

Reading the dictionary on the floor

And with that I am taking an indefinite break from Exit Sideways. Perhaps I will return a few months from now, maybe a few years, or quite realistically, never. I learned that my time is so utterly precious and I have so much to do yet for myself. So thank you for reading. I know I have inspired a few people along the way and while that is why I started this, I’ve also realized you don’t need me.

You’ve got this.

To read part 1 of the Finale, see The Dictionary Challenge Finale Part 1: A Lexical Overview

Dictionary Challenge Week 45: Breaking Even

I’m a little late on putting this one up, but on the 313th day (January 21, 2017) of the challenge, I finally stopped being behind. And here’s what that felt like:

Week 45 Stats

Starting Word: Streisand, Barbara          Ending Word: tardive dyskinesia

Total pages: 1591/1815                             Ahead/behind: +6

 

Dictionary Challenge Weeks 40-42: A Sedulous Challenge

It’s time to get intellectual.

Okay, well, maybe only a little bit. There are a ton of entries that are basically just synonyms of words that are much more common. Sometimes I like these entries because they have a nice flow to them, but most of the time I’m much more realistic in how I consider them. No one (that is… regular, non-pompous, literarily disinclined folks) will know what I’m saying when I spout off about how the dictionary is sesquipedalian.

I could have just said the dictionary has big words in it.

Big words

So while I’m being acquainted with a great many words that are, well, sesquipedalian – the practicality of actually using them is fairly moot. I’m a writer by trade, but not in the grand literary sense of novelists and poets, so any instances where some of these words could be used would actually be a hindrance, acting more as a barrier to communication than an asset. Using complex language excludes a lot more people than it includes.

However, even though I know, for convenience sake, I won’t use a lot of these words… I still appreciate them. Here’s a list of some of my favourite “big words” from the last three weeks:

Rodomontade – Boastful or bragging talk or behaviour

Sagacious – 1. Mentally penetrating; gifted with discernment; having practical wisdom 2. Acute-minded; shrewd

Salubrious – 1. Conducive or favourable to good health; healthy 2. Pleasant; agreeable

Scabrous –  1. having a rough surface; bearing short stiff hairs, scales, etc 2. Requiring tactful treatment; hard to handle with decency 3a. indecent, salacious; scandalous 3b. behaving licentiously

Saturnine – 1. Sluggishly gloomy temperament 2. (of looks) dark and brooding

Saprophagous – feeding on decaying matter

Scrofula – 2. Morally corrupt

Rugose – wrinkled, corrugated

Senesce – grow old

Sententious – 1. (of a person) fond of pompous moralizing

Sedulous – 1. Persevering, diligent, assiduous 2. (of an action, etc) deliberately and consciously continued; painstaking

That last one I feel like applies to me. Deliberately and consciously continuing the painstaking process of reading the dictionary. But let’s move along to some words I’d like to expand on a bit. First up, is one of my favourites… rusticate meaning, in the first sense “retire or live in the country.” This is really only because I am a country girl who now lives in the city and I have this part of me that still yearns for the country. Rusticate has enough of that romantic sound to it that it really aligns with how I feel about the country; it elicits an elegiac response in me.

Another top contender is shemozzle and this is simply because it’s fun to say and pairs well with its definition, like a cheap glass of white wine with chicken nuggets…. that definition being “a brawl or commotion” in the first sense, and “a muddle” in the second sense. Come on. Say it out loud. Shemozzle.

Now wasn’t that fun?

Next up is a word I included because I like how the people who write the definitions wrote part of the entry for selfish. In the first sense, it’s defined as “deficient in consideration for others, concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure; actuated by self-interest.” It’s the first part that I like so much. Deficient in consideration for others. Maybe it’s because I like how it implies that a selfish person isn’t just self-involved, but that they are actively deficient in some way – that they are lacking. It’s my own idiosyncratic way of looking at it, I suppose.

I also liked the word Saskabush as “a nickname for Saskatoon” because I had never heard that nickname before, but it made me laugh because it’s pretty fitting. The word schmaltz is another I liked because the two senses of the word are so completely different, yet I could still see how they might relate. The first sense is “sentimentality, esp in music, drama, etc” and the second sense is “melted chicken fat.”

Different. Yet similar.

I also have to make note that shit-eating made its way into the dictionary, defined as “smug, self-satisfied.” Which is something, I think, that most people know. But, like many other words I’ve come across in The Behemoth, it made me stop and think about it. I don’t think someone would necessarily feel all that smug if they were eating feces. Right?

Yeah. Words certainly are interesting… when you think about them. Kind of like how the archaic definition of self-abuse is “masturbation.” I have just one thing to say about this… you’re doing it wrong.

Weeks 40-42 Stats

Starting Word: Roblin, Dufferin                         Ending Word: side

Total Pages: 1442/1815                                      Ahead/Behind: -33

Dictionary Challenge Week 37-39: You Don’t Want to be Ravishing

Merry Christmas everyone! Grab your rum and eggnog and settle in for the latest round-up of words that have struck my fancy for the latest edition of the Dictionary Challenge. But first I have to draw attention to the boring mathematics of it all. (Which, to be honest, gives me just a tinge of satisfaction. It’s like when you’re trying to lose weight and you hop on the scale every day and you can see that number shrinking.) So. For the first time in weeks I’ve gotten a little closer to “back on track,” now being 40 pages behind.  And at the end of this month, there will be only 10 weeks left in this challenge.

Oooh. A chill just ran up my spine.

I can see the light!! It’s a mere 480 pages away. Well 480 pages of the dictionary. That’s approximately the same as 7 average sized novels… of reference material. (Just in case anyone needed reminding.)

Obviously failure is still a very real possibility. I never count my chickens before they hatch, so I’ll only prevaricate (speak or act evasively or misleadingly) about whether or not I think I’ll make it. All I’ll admit to is trying my best… and being one refractory (stubborn, unmanageable, rebellious) piece of work, with an emphasis on the stubborn part of the definition.

Now, I think I’ll ease you into this post. Yes, that is a completely obvious foreshadowing of the dark and dingy road we will eventually amble down. So let’s start with something I have always wondered, but have never took the time to look up: A cousin who is twice removed. It was a confusing concept for me. I thought it was a family member who was disowned. But how someone is disowned twice was a mystery to me. Turns out that was completely wrong.

Removed – 1. (esp of cousins) separated by a specified number of steps of descent

Which means that a first cousin twice removed is the grandchild of a first cousin. Need more clarification? Think of your cousin. Now if that person had a child, that child would be your cousin, once removed. And if that child (as an adult, of course) had a child, then that would be your cousin, twice removed. After writing this all out, it seems like it would be pretty basic or common knowledge. So sorry for wasting your time. I’m sure you all already knew this.

Let me make it up to you with… purple. What? You also already know what purple is? False. (Well, maybe you do, but…) I’m talking about the second sense of the word in relation to writing and speech, which means excessively elaborate or ornate. Now, that’s awesome. As you can tell, my writing isn’t purple. If I had to colour it, it’d probably be green.

While I’m reading the dictionary, I have these sort of meta moments. For example, reading the word read. It means examine or peruse printed matter for recreation or personal enjoyment. Which makes me think I’m doing it wrong. Oh, but I jest. Yes, sometimes (most of the time) I’m trudging through The Behemoth and it’s not really all that enjoyable, but there are many moments where I learn something interesting, correct a mistaken thought or belief, or am rewarded with a new word that I love. Something like riparian, which is defined as on or of a riverbank. It’s a nice, smooth word and makes me think of gondoliers perched in their boats (and maybe busting out a romantic song in Italian.) Or something like propeller-head, a term for a computer geek; a nerd.

But, as I warned earlier, not all the words in the dictionary are sunshine and roses. Like ratbag, an unpleasant or disgusting person. The definition is apt, I’d say. I also kind of like it because it is so fitting. I mean, if you’re going to call someone a ratbag, they better be unpleasant or disgusting. I don’t call people names, not even the unpleasant folks, but I’d really like to start using ratbag. Just picture a fight breaking out in hockey and one of them says, “bring it on ratbag.” I bet the fight would end right then; nobody can swing a fist well when they’re laughing.

And speaking of rats, I have learned there is a small rat-like marsupial of the Potoroidae family, having kangaroo-like hind limbs for jumping called a rat kangaroo. That sounds terrifying. Imagine a big black rat springing up at you with it’s big old chompers and beady little eyes. Don’t worry, it’s not actually that terrifying. It’s actually kind of cute. Well, the ones I saw on google anyways.

Next up, is a common word, but it deserves mention because the Oxford nailed this one on the head. The definition is kind of beautiful, in a way, if you know what I mean. The word is resignation and it’s defined as the uncomplaining endurance of a sorrow or difficulty in the 3rd sense. That’s the absolutely perfect definition. A lot of words in the dictionary mean basically the same thing, so it kind of makes them less special. For example, resplendent is a word that I’ve liked for a long time, but when I finally read it in the dictionary, and the definition was brilliant, dazzlingly or gloriously bright, it was a bit disappointing. I felt like resplendent was a magnificent word and deserved a majestic definition. I wanted it to dazzle me, but it didn’t. It just was exactly what it was. It wasn’t wrong, obviously, but I wanted it to be… more. Ya, know?

So, um, yeah. I liked the definition for resignation.

This next one is actually one I use a lot when describing a fun time. Ripsnortera person or thing of exceptionally remarkable strength, energy, quality, etc. I really just wanted to share this with you because it’s a fun, goofy word and it basically means awesome. I usually use it in the context, “we’re gonna have a ripsnortin’ good time!” And we do.

Now, in case any of you were actually doubting that I was reading the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, I have all the proof you’ll need. It comes in the definition of road apple which is a piece of horse manure in the first sense and a frozen piece of horse manure used as a hockey puck, especially on the prairies in the second sense. Which is about as Canadian as you can get. Have I done this? Perhaps. Okay, yes. It happened. And I have no shame.

So along with the definitions, the dictionary will also provide example sentences to show how the word is used. But, as you can imagine, sometimes after reading for hours the words and entries can kind of blur together. So when I came to the entry for protection and read the example sentences: “not wise to engage in sex without protection; she brought a gun for protection”… well. I was caught right off guard.

She needs a gun to protect herself while having sex?

You’re doing it wrong, was all I could think. But then I realized those were two separate examples. I also realized I needed some sleep. Unfortunately, I also realized I actually can think of moments where this scenario applies.

And now for the final descent into the darker side of things.

She Looked Ravishing

First, we have the word ravishing which is a nice word, meaning entrancing, delightful in the first sense and extraordinarily beautiful in the second sense. Nothing wrong with that. However, the entry just before this one was for the root of the word. That being ravish and meaning, in the first sense, to commit rape on. And there’s a connection here that isn’t right. Ravish comes from Old French ravir, ultimately from Latin rapere seize. So you can see how it leads to rape. But how did we get from one to the other? From rape to extraordinarily beautiful? It seems obvious to me, but that is only my interpretation, of which I’m not arrogant enough to say that it’s right and so, while this is my opinion, all I ask is that you take a moment to ruminate on this yourself and think of the bigger implications.

And maybe don’t say, “you look ravishing.” You might be giving a compliment, but underneath a seemingly innocuous word, is a long history of mostly women, but also others who have suffered. It is, however, made clear in the dictionary that ravish and ravishing are separate words with separate meanings, so the argument could be made that considering them together is wrong. I wouldn’t agree with that. You can’t slap “ing” onto a word and say it’s now something good. It highlights how we twist things and normalize them. I’m pretty sure when you tell someone, “you look ravishing tonight” you’re not actually saying, “you look so good I could/would/will rape you tonight.”

But how can you not make that association now that you know that the root word of your compliment is a violent, aggressive act of sexual abuse?

Things to think about.

When it comes to your words – choose wisely.

Week 37-39 Stats

Starting Word: precipitation                  Ending Word: Robinson

Total Pages: 1335/1815                           Ahead/Behind: -40

Dictionary Challenge Weeks 34-36: Lexical Synchronicity & Dick Whips

For six weeks I have been unable to read myself out of the remaining deficit. I have 50 pages to go before I am back at par and back on track to actually reading the whole Behemoth in one year’s time.

Which, by the way, is a deadline of March 16th, 2017.

It feels like, all of a sudden, that’s not very far off. I wouldn’t be lying if I told you I wished I was already on that 1815th page. But, I suppose, that is how things that take so much time and effort go. I’ve always been a destination person. I know that corny saying “It’s about the journey, not the destination” is true, but damn I have a hard time really living it. Every time I finish a challenge, a project, or even a book, I’m left with this small pocket of sadness; and yet, while I know this is coming, I can’t help but wish it were already here.

The danger with this type of thinking is that you’re always looking forward and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Because you’re always wanting what’s next, what’s to come, and you forget to appreciate the moment, the right here and right now. When this is all said and done, an entire year of my life will have passed. Not an insignificant amount of time, is it? I have done many things in addition to reading the dictionary… but I have also neglected a great many things as well. And this is where my stubbornness kicks in. I’m not much of a quitter. It’s not easy for me to walk away from things. If I say I’m going to do something, it feels like I don’t have a choice – I have to do it. So while I have thought about throwing in the towel many times, moving on, and focusing on new projects, my relationship, and my physical health… I am still here with my ever-present dictionary sidekick, watching the pages dwindle and March 16th approach.

As of late, I have been able to retain a better balance of life than a few months ago when I was spending upwards of two hours a day reading the Behemoth. So that’s been nice.

Anyways.

Let’s get to what you’re actually here for. The letter “P” is the third most word heavy letter of the alphabet, comprising a total of 147 pages of the dictionary. I have been reading words that begin with the letter “P” for over 3 weeks. So I think it’s only fair that when we jump into the words we start with pee. Yeah, yeah, everyone knows it means urinate. But the interesting fact of the day is… why? Well let me impart some dictionary knowledge upon you. We say we “gotta go pee” because pee is the written form of the letter “p” and “p” is the first letter of the word “piss.” So now you know.

My favourite word of the last three weeks is palooka which is what you’d call an oaf or a lout. Sorry… I don’t have any extra dictionary knowledge to drop on you about why for this one, other than that the origin is unknown. But doesn’t it sound fun? I think I might start using this as an endearing term for my sweetie. It has that kind of ring to it, doesn’t it? “I love you my sweet palooka.” I mean, if you can call your significant other a pookie, babe, big daddy, cuddle muffin, doodle bug, lambkins, shmoopsie poo – I could go on forever, here – I think palooka fits right in.

In a close second place is the word pendragon. This word describes a medieval beast that blasted ink from it’s nostrils.

Pendragon

Okay, fine. That was a lie. It’s actually a wordsmith who slays the competition with bad ass word configurations…. Sorry – that was a lie too. I really just want it to mean that. I love the word, but the definition is lame. It’s actually (I swear this is the truth this time) an ancient British or Welsh prince, often as a title. So, I mean, if I had the title of pendragon I’d feel pretty awesome, but I don’t and neither does anyone else… unless we all started to use it as in my second made up definition. Thoughts? Anyone? We could force it to mean a bad ass wordsmith – an ink breathing curator of infinite written talent!… Spitting out inky word-blots of sheer glory! Whose with me!? Can I get a robust “hell yeah!”?

Guess I’m all alone on that one. Ah, well, c’est la vie.

So for the sake of transparency, I’ll admit to you that I wrote everything up until this paragraph yesterday. This is important, because today something happened.

Let me tell you all about the geekiest moment of excitement I had today. This story really begins many a day ago when I read the word post-prandial in the dictionary and thought it was great because I didn’t know that there was a word for something “happening immediately after a meal.” I was also a touch disappointed because I would probably never use it since it really isn’t that common of a word. So I took a moment to appreciate it and then I moved on. Now fast forward to today. I was on the infallible internet doing my research on a product for work… and right there, in one review among hundreds, was the sentence:

… you can announce to your family, “That was vegan, you know,” as they’re laying down their forks in postprandial bliss.

Boomshakalaka! That’s lexical synchronicity right there. Was I just wondering why the hell I’m reading all these words, most of which I’ll never use/need/see again in my life? Was I getting a little down about this challenge? A little impatient? A little unappreciative? Maybe. But not anymore! You never know when some unsuspecting word like post-prandial is going to just jump up and bite ya. Or something like that.

And it’s those small moments of brilliance that act like a whisper in my ear, “keep going.”

Before I wind things up, I have a few other words that deserve mention. Like panleukopenia, which is a word workout for your mouth and means “feline distemper.” I really just included it because I will never use it again as it is the equivalent of running a marathon when you could just do a 5K and say your little critter has the “cat plague.” I don’t plan on ever running a marathon.

Another thing I have learned lately is that a pound cake is a rich cake originally made with a pound each of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. Another thing they could have called it was a heart attack. Seriously. That’s crazy.

And last, but certainly not least, I unfortunately have to make mention of one of the dictionary’s more messed up words. Okay, not so much the dictionary’s word but the actual thing itself. Now, I have been guilty of talking like a poser and uttering horrible things like, “what’s up in the hizzle? Let’s grab a bizzle.”

I just got really embarrassed typing that out. But it’s true. I’ve said both those lines… many times. I’m so ashamed.

Anyways. It’s this sloppy way of talking I sometimes engage in with my friends when we’re being dorks. However, I found a word in the Behemoth that sounds just like that: pizzle. At first glance it sounds funny, right? If my friends and I were to use it, it would be for something like, “I’m going to the bathroom for a pizzle.” That, however, is not the correct usage. At all. It’s actually “the penis of an animal, especially a bull, formerly used as a whip.”

So even though I thought a pound cake was ridiculous, this is straight up bizarre. Who uses a dick as a whip?? And on that horrible imagery, I’m going to leave you. Tune in next time to see where else the dictionary will take me…. If you think your ready for more strange and sometime wonderful and sometimes really, really horrible words.

Update: I googled pizzle. Apparently it’s a popular dog treat. Also, I don’t recommend googling it.

Week 34-36 Stats

Starting Word: Pacific dogwood                Ending Word: precipitate

Total Pages: 1220/1815                                Ahead/Behind: -50

Dictionary Challenge Weeks 32-33: Hey Nimrods!

Prepare yourselves folks. Because I’ve been treating you pretty good so far… you know, choosing the best words to pass along to you without making you slog through the dictionary yourselves. Today, however, that changes. So watch this video and share this painstaking experience with me.

If you actually made it all the way to the end, I applaud you. (Though I’m willing to bet no one did and I really don’t blame you for tapping out.) I know it wasn’t easy. And that’s now 8 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. Which is pretty insignificant when compared to the amount of time I’ve already dedicated to reading The Behemoth… that being somewhere between 90 and 100 hours so far.

Jeez. I’m going to be able to do so many things when this challenge is over.

Anyways, it’s not always like what you just witnessed. There really are some awesome things in that big old book of words. Take murder for example. Okay, that maybe came out wrong. I don’t mean murder is awesome. I’m all about non-violence. But! The second sense of the word is “an unpleasant, or dangerous state of affairs” and I think it’s awesome that the definition made me laugh out loud…. Because, really – what an understatement. Imagine someone being murdered in cold blood and the newscast comes on the TV with the anchor saying “The family of Alfred Thompkins mourns an unpleasant state of affairs. Mr. Thompkins was murdered by a deranged psychopath.” Yeah, I don’t think so.

Some other thing that I have recently learned… a musk-ox is “a large goat-antelope”. I didn’t see that coming. Also, we are all basically netheads because most of us are “frequent users of the internet.” And…  the word nice was originally a Middle English word meaning stupid/wanton from Old French for silly/simple. That one makes me a little sad because I can see the evolution at work. Nice people generally get taken advantage of the most for being caring, trusting, generous and good to others. Which boomerangs back around to them being kind of stupid when they get taken advantage of. Kind of like the dog biting the hand that feeds it. Most of us have been there, getting bit by our dogs… we’ve been the nice guy… and where did we finish? Last! Ah, but thank goodness for Karma right? Good things are a-coming. Right? Right? I think so. So despite the word’s origins, stay nice. You’re not stupid. You’re a good person and the world needs more people like you.

Hunter

Original photo courtesy of M01229 via Flickr. Adapted by me.

And while we’re on the subject of stupid… to all my hunter friends, don’t get angry the next time I call you a nimrod. It’s actually a compliment meaning, in the second sense of the word that you are “a skilled hunter.” Well, I guess you won’t really know for sure though, because in the third sense, it also means “an inept person.” So… happy hunting ya nimrod!

Now I saw a news story the other day in which kids didn’t know that beef came from a cow or that when they were eating their burger they were eating a cow. There are words sort of like that. We get accustomed to words without really knowing what they mean sometimes. For example, o’clock. We all know what 6 o’clock is. It’s 6 in the morning. Or 6 at night. But did you know that o’clock means “of the clock”? It’s not a surprising definition, but it reminds you that sometimes you don’t think critically. You don’t know the why, but the word is so ingrained that you don’t think to ask why.

There is, however, something I want to ask “why” about, and it is… why is an ordinary seamana sailor of the lowest rank, that below able seaman”? Titles aside, you’d think that your common, ordinary seaman would at least be able. Their ranking system kind of says that the average seaman isn’t able. Not really good odds on your ship since that puts half of them as unable. Maybe changing the titles would make people feel more at ease.

Another thing I’ve noticed since I began this challenge, is that there is a form science dedicated to everything. I mean everything. In just the past two weeks, I’ve come across orthoepy, “the scientific study of the correct pronunciation of words” and oenology “the study of wines”. If I knew that oenology was a thing when I was 18… my career path would probably have gone a lot differently.

Next up I have to talk about some words where I have some sort of an appreciation for the way in which they were defined. First, is overkill, being defined in the second sense as “the amount by which destruction or the capacity for destruction exceeds what is necessary for victory or annihilation.” Pretty sure when you’re talking about annihilation, there is no such thing as overkill. But what a grand definition. I mean, it’s big, you know? I usually use overkill for more simple things, like the amount of homework assigned was overkill. And that’s not exactly something that would destroy the world as we know it.

Similarly, the definition of overwhelm in the third sense is “bring to sudden ruin/destruction; crush.” Yup, being overwhelmed is a pretty monumental thing. But again, I usually take it more along the lines of “I’m overwhelmed with the amount of chores I have” but I wouldn’t say that means I will be ruined or crushed. I can… and will… *Cue gladiator music* … survive my chores!

Okay, okay. I know I put you through the gears in making you watch me read the entry for just one word from the dictionary. So I won’t drag on forever here. Here’s a list of some of the other words I either learned, found the definition to be interesting, or just simply liked from the past two weeks:

Orgulous – haughty, proud

Orphan drug – a drug that is useful but is not commercially available for the pharmaceutical company producing it unless it is granted tax credits and other special status

Overweening – arrogant, presumptuous, conceited

Olivaceous – olive green; of a dusky yellowish green

Obstreperous – 1. Unruly, resisting control 2. Noisy, vociferous

Obstinate – 3. Inflexible, self-willed

Normal school – a school or college for training teachers

Nullity – 2a. the condition of being non-existent b. a mere nothing

As always.. thanks for reading! If you want to know as soon as the next post is up, click on the little blue rectangle at the top of the page to the right that says “Follow Exit Sideways.”

Week 32-33 Stats

Starting Word: Munition                     Ending Word: Pacific Daylight Time

Total Pages: 1114/1815                        Ahead/Behind: -51 pages