April 12, 2016

Friday, April 26, 2013

National Poetry Month 2013: Debbie Levy's Ode to the Dictionary App

Today's Poetry Friday host is Laura Purdie Salas!
Stop by Writing the World for Kids for this week's poetry links.
Can you believe that it's the last Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month 2013? We have a few more days to spend in the TechnoVerse -- the intersection between poetry and technology.

(You can read the full list of posts in the "Welcome to the TechnoVerse" series here.)

Today, Maryland-based poet and children's author Debbie Levy (IMPERFECT SPIRAL) is here with an ode to a post about her favorite app: the Merriam-Webster's dictionary (here's the web  version).

Buy it at IndieBound.
Feel free to put your dusty old word-tomes on the floor. Those obsolete reference books make great door-stops.

You Want This App!

by Debbie Levy

Although I was a fairly late adapter to smartphones, I was, and am, an enthusiastic one. And there is one smartphone app that I’ve embraced as a reader, writer, and human being who communicates with words: the Merriam-Webster dictionary app. I turn to it all the time. How do I love it? Let me count the ways:

1. For definitions. Duh—but, really, think of all the words we use that we couldn’t precisely define if someone asked. My American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is also perfect for this—but it’s big and heavy and not with me all the time. Life is better when I look up definitions.

2. For comparing nuances between similar words. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t decide: “prattle” or “prate”? Thanks to the app, I decided the question turned on whether I wanted to “utter or make meaningless sounds suggestive of the chatter of children” or “talk long and idly.” I’m not sure I went on to make the correct choice, but it was an informed choice.

3. For synonyms. Babble, blab, cackle, chatter, gab, gabble, jabber, jaw, natter, patter, rattle, twitter. . . . I could go on, but I would be prattling.

Talking Babble Ball for Dogs
 Talking Babble Ball for Dogs talks and makes exciting animal sounds
when touched, according to ValleyVet.Com.
4. For pronunciations. Next to each word, there’s a little speaker icon. Push it and a woman or man utters the word for you. The voice in the app is, I’m pretty sure, a blood relation of the woman or man in your MapQuest or Google Maps app, only not so disapproving, which is nice.
5. For words that I’ve looked up recently (and possibly already forgotten), there’s the app’s “Recent” function. You don’t have to do a thing; it compiles the list from your previous look-ups. It’s like a little journal. My “Recent” list includes “omphalos” and “millrace.” I have no idea why. And “riffle” and “rifle,” because I wanted to make sure the character going through the mail in the page proofs of my new novel was doing the right thing in “riffling” rather than “rifling” through it. He was. And “chartreuse” because sometimes I have a mental block in which I mix it up with “magenta.” What, you’ve never blanked out on your non-primary colors?
“Aphorism” and “apothegm” are on the list—who wouldn’t want to know the difference? “Valence” and “valance”—okay, there is no way I will remember what a “valence” is but I will not confuse it with “valance.” “Negativism.” “Pessimism.” I’m sure I had very good reasons for examining those words. “Banal.” Don’t ask. (But see above, my use of the “How do I love thee” trope instead of coming up with something fresher.)
Finally, one more reason to love the app: the word of the day. As I write this, that word is “nepenthe.” 

I didn’t know this word. The app defines “nepenthe” as:

“1: a potion used by the ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow
“2: something capable of causing oblivion of grief or suffering.”
An atomizer for your nepenthe, from Graphics Fairy.
What a great word for a writer!
And now I read further down the screen: “‘Nepenthe’ and its ancestors have long been popular with poets. Homer used the Greek grandparent of ‘nepenthe’. . . . The term was a tonic to Edmund Spenser. . . .Edgar Allan Poe sought to ‘Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore.’” (Who is Lenore? Click this link and you will be confused nevermore.)
How do I call myself a writer and not know this word?!
I should not let an iPhone app make me feel bad about myself. So I won’t. Moving on.
I love my Merriam-Webster dictionary app. There is one down side: The app has led me away from daily use not only of my American Heritage dictionary but also my thesaurus. I have a beat-up, coffee-stained edition of Roget’s given and inscribed to me in 1970 by Mrs. Sporn, my sixth-grade teacher at Montgomery Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland. 
She presented it to me on the occasion of my bat mitzvah. I used to consult it almost every day that I wrote. I don’t anymore. Progress has its costs.
Debbie Levy’s latest book is Imperfect Spiral, a novel for young adults. Yes, it is this book that presented her with the “riffle” vs. “rifle” choice that the Merriam-Webster app helped her determine, and it will be published in July by Bloomsbury/Walker.
She’s also the author of The Year of Goodbyes, a true story, told in free verse, that stemmed from the discovery of the autograph book her mother kept when she was a girl living in Germany in 1938. Among other honors, The Year of Goodbyes is a Kirkus Best Book of 2010, 2011 Sydney Taylor Notable Book, and a VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) Nonfiction Honor List 2010 selection.
A former newspaper editor and lawyer, Debbie is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan Law School. She lives in Maryland with her husband. Stop on by at\

Speaking of history, Debbie, I am off to Maryland History Day tomorrow, judging in the performance category. The state level winners will come to University of Maryland in May/June for National History Day. I can't wait to see what the students have created for their projects!


Linda B said...

I use this online, but don't have the app on my phone-time to get it! Thanks for a fun post of more dictionary bliss, Debbie. I have The Year of Goodbyes on my TBR shelf! Now, it'll move to the top! Thanks again Laura for taking us readers so many places!

Janet Wong said...

I agree with Mrs. Sporn: Debbie is a "most thoughtful, pleasant, and excellent" person! I loved this post and would like to point readers to Debbie's outstanding poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology (both the K-5 and the Middle School editions). Last week at IRA, I shared "Breaking the Spell" from the Middle School book with a spelling expert from CA. She loved this poem about a poor speller realizing that maybe she CAN spell, after all!

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Linda. I was thinking the same thing about the dictionary app. I do get one of the word-a-day emails, which I love!

Janet, thanks for visiting and for mentioning Debbie's contributions to the Poetry Friday Anthology. We treasure her here in Maryland!

Bridget Magee said...

Thanks for sharing Debbie Leby's app discovery. I use this dictionary online because, alas, I have no Smart Phone, not smart enough yet! LOL! Interesting post, Laura! =)

Tabatha said...

Great post! "Nepenthe" is new to me, although we hear people talk/sing about such a thing all the time. Does Mrs. Sporn know how much use Debbie gave that thesaurus? :-) Wonderful story. Enjoy National History Day!

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Laura and Debbie--I just can't keep up with all the wonderfulness here this month! Thank you for all your work on these posts and this post.

Debbie said...

Thank you for the comments, people! Tabatha, how I wish I had let Mrs. Sporn know how much I used the thesaurus. She was not a young person when she was my sixth-grade teacher, so I was apprehensive when I looked for her recently. I learned that she died in 2011 at the age of 96; she was predeceased by both her daughter and her husband. I am kicking myself, and worse, for not letting this teacher know how meaningful her gift to me was. There is a lesson here.

Mary Lee said...

I use both my computer's built-in dictionary (when I'm on the computer) and the MW app on my phone.

I guess I need to open it more often and look at the word of the day! That seems like an easy way to get smarter, one word at a time!!

laurasalas said...

Sold! Well, it's free, so I'll just say Installed! RhymeZone is my most-used writing-related app, but I'm going to have to play with M-W, too. Thanks for sharing all these fun features! I love The Year of Goodbyes...

Ruth said...

Downloaded! Thank you!