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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Flip Dictionary

I got a new dictionary for my birthday. The Flip Dictionary is “for when you know what you want to say but can’t think of the word”. That happens all the time! Here’s how it works: “The A-to-Z listings include components, concepts, ideas and parts”. So you look up the idea you have in mind in order to find the word that is on the tip of your tongue, but won’t reveal itself. For example, if you are thinking of that soft, flaky sliver-of-a-moon-shaped breakfast roll bread from France, but just can’t nail the right word, look up “bread” in the flip dictionary. There is it: croissant!

On New Year’s Day while we were painting rocks, someone was telling a childhood story about her grandmother’s little dog that had big buggy eyes that popped out whenever the dog got too excited or exerted too much energy. Whenever this happened, the little girl in the story had to poke the eyes back into place.

“What kind of dog is that?!” someone asked. We struggled to answer the question. Several of us could see the little dog clearly in our mind’s eye, but just couldn’t think of the right word. We described the dog vividly and periodically called out the names of various breeds, but we just couldn’t name the breed correctly. A couple of us pulled out our iphones to search the internet for the answer. It soon became a competition to get the right word before anyone else could produce it. Then Carolyn joined in the frenzy and opened the new Flip Dictionary. Standing excitedly in the middle of the room, she shouted, “Pekinese!”

“Yes! That’s it!” The Flip Dictionary sealed the question. Ah, I am certain this will be a very useful tool.

I am reminded of how I increased my Japanese vocabulary. Once I became conversationally fluent, I reached a sort of plateau in my language acquisition. I could express anything I wanted or needed to, but not always in the most efficient way. Nonetheless, I could communicate quite well, so growing my vocabulary was not an urgent need. For example, rather than saying “when I was a little girl, my grandmother had a Pekinese…” I would have to describe the dog in great detail and most likely, tell a couple of stories along the way. My Japanese friends would all interject with various words trying to hone in on my point until it was agreed on one that worked best. I would write the new word in my pocket notebook where I collected vocabulary and in that way, I learned to speak Japanese better.

As I became more fluent in Japanese, it occurred to me that my own native language is full of rich vocabulary that I do not know and do not use. It was then that I began to enjoy a basic English dictionary. But that required me to choose new words and study them. This flip dictionary seems more practical and more fun.

Thank you, Carolyn, for my new Flip Dictionary!


  1. I definitely want to get one of the Flip Dictionaries. I hadn't thought of using it to increase vocabulary--that is a great idea. Probably easier to use than a thesaurus or synonym finder (both of which I have and don't use often enough). I'm glad that you wrote about this!

  2. Thanks Linda, I KNOW I need to increase my English vocab! Hmmm, I'm thinking of another sort of vocabulary collection idea...