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This content is taken from the Coventry University, The Alan Turing Institute & Macmillan Education's online course, Understanding English Dictionaries. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds When I write short stories, I consult a Longman Language Activator to help me to find exact words I want. For example, wander is a particular way of walking. I was looking up some football results actually the other day and one of the teams I was checking was a Belgian team called Standard Liege and I thought standard, that’s a rather strange name for a football team to an English speaker anyway. So I checked up in the dictionary because I knew that the word standard didn’t mean to do with quality so I checked it up and the meaning of the word for the team was a flag like a Royal standard and that’s why the team chose the name.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds Last week I looked up the word annex to see if it had an E on the end or not. Apparently you can use both spellings. When I was translating poetry by Giuseppe Belli, a 19 century Roman dialect poet I had to use both Italian language dictionaries and a dictionary of Romanesque dialect so I could understand the meaning of words that differ slightly between the two. Also I would use dictionaries quite often to look up former meanings of words that have changed over time in more antiquated texts by people like Shakespeare or Chaucer.

Skip to 1 minute and 24 seconds I teach digital discourse at Coventry University and in 2013 “the selfie” with the Oxford Word of the Year and this was an excellent starting point for discussions around self representation through linguistic and also visual resources, for example how do we construct ourselves online? In 2015 an “emoji” was the word of the year and this was another excellent example showing how technological affordances affect the way in which we express our emotions online. I like reading English novels, for example novels by Jane Austen and

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds one day I found a phrase: a fair complexion. I know the meaning of complexion but I am not sure of the meaning of fair so I looked it up in the dictionary and I found out that fair is an old fashioned term for beautiful but in the present day it also means that a woman has blonde coloured hair and light skin. Last December I was in China and when you’re in China you are always very well looked after but I was taken to the airport for my flight home and the flight was cancelled due to bad weather so I was stuck.

Skip to 2 minutes and 46 seconds So I went to a little hotel, got a minibus there and they dropped me at the hotel and the receptionist didn’t speak any English and I don’t speak any Mandarin and I had no one with me to translate. And then the receptionist pointed his phone at me and eventually I realised that I could speak English into his phone and he would see and it would be translated into Mandarin and he could read it. Have you notice that English people love to say cheers a lot? Yeah.

Skip to 3 minutes and 16 seconds Before I arrived in the UK the only meaning I know of cheers which is when you express good wishes when drinking. Yeah they say a lot of cheers. Yeah I look the word up in a dictionary and I know cheers also means thank you and goodbye so it’s useful right. Yes a useful phrase.

Some personal examples of dictionary use

Watch the video clips of people talking about how they use their dictionaries.

As you saw in the video, we use dictionaries for lots of reasons.

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This video is from the free online course:

Understanding English Dictionaries

Coventry University