Words in Sheep’s Clothing
Keywords:monolingual dictionary, English, decoding, dictionary word, “dubious” word, potential word
The paper focuses on various types of dictionary words, i.e. infrequent and rather uncommon words often listed in comprehensive monolingual English dictionaries but virtually nonexistent in actual usage. These are typically learned derivatives of Greek or Latin origin that are given as unlabeled synonyms of everyday vocabulary items. Their inclusion seems to stem from the application of two different bits of lexicographic philosophy: great respect for matters classical and the principle of comprehensiveness. Seen from this perspective, descriptive corpus-based lexicography is still too weak. While in large native-speaker-oriented dictionaries of English such entries do not seem to cause any harm, they can be positively dangerous in EFL/ESL environments, because using them can easily lead to strange or downright incomprehensible lexical items. Learners are advised to be careful and check the status of such “dubious” items also in English monolingual learners’ dictionaries, in which dictionary words are virtually nonexistent.
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