Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Hello all,

I was recently pointed to a new free on-line reference website that I wanted to share. It seems to be a kind of meta-dictionary so that when you search a word, you get the beginning definitions and etymological information from a wide range of references, and hot links to the full definitions for each. I was pleased to see that under "Etymology References" Etymonline is often the top hit.

So far I've only used it occasionally, but I do find it a useful tool. I particularly like the idea of using it in schools as a way for teachers and students to be reminded about the principle that real scholars and scientists never rely on one reference to come to a conclusion. (By the way, see  this link for an interesting post on the nature of dictionaries.)

That key message is implicit in the nature of this tool. There would be no reason for such a tool unless different dictionaries provided differing information. Sometimes those differences will be differences of detail or scope, sometimes those differences will include accurate vs. inaccurate information. And in all cases it is the user who is left with the job of making judgements about what to glean from the variety of information presented. 

If classrooms add this to their on-line reference links (but don't ignore those good paper versions!), students will automatically be presented with multiple and varied reference information for the same word. It would be interesting for classrooms to start using this tool with the plan to collect evidence about which references seem to provide more useful and reliable data. If any classroom takes up that challenge, I'd love to hear about it!

An important caveat! 

This tool does have an important flaw which reinforces the fact that even a meta-dictionary is just one source and not to be relied on by itself. For some unknown reason Memidex dos not support searchers for affixes. I find this odd as references that it draws on certainly do. I often asked if I have a list of affixes that I can provide teachers to help them when they hit a word sum that suggests an affix that they do not recognize. I point out that they already have such a "list" if they have a good dictionary. So teachers that suggest the use of this tool in their class need to be aware and they should inform their students that if they are investigating for affixes, they must go elsewhere.

If people to make use of this tool, do let me know of strengths and weaknesses. I'm curious how you find it. 



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