LP just finished reading “Brave New World” over the weekend, one of the summer assignments for Advanced Placement English Language and Composition. She takes her work very seriously (more seriously than her mother did at that age, much as I hate to confess it), and she makes lists of unfamiliar words to enhance her vocabulary. She’ll come to me and ask what they mean.
It takes me back to the day when I would ask my father how to spell something, and he would say, “Look it up.”
I hated it.
I understand why he did it. He wanted me to know how to look things up, first of all, and he knew that figuring out how to spell the word would likely mean reading and learning other words, too.
But I hated it, much as I hated all predictable parental responses.
While I was fixing dinner on Sunday, the word in question was “insipid.”
My response, I fear, is just as predictable. I describe, in a meandering way, what I think the word means, based on many years of reading American and British literature and a lot of Bible, too, and eventually she says, “You’re not really sure what it means, are you?”
And I respond, “Let’s look it up.”
And we do look it up, together, confirming my definition, or not, and hers as well.
In the case of “insipid,” I said, “Well, it means…one of those things…a quality of…I think it means vapid.”
And LP answered, “I thought it was something more like flavorless.”
We turned to the dictionary app on my iPhone.
Sometimes we’re both right, when we look it up together.
And I like it so much better.