springing like a lion

A young student hears the word awry which is not familiar and wonders “What does the word awry mean?”

So, wanting to settle the matter, the enthusiastic student begins to look up awry in a dictionary at a library, and after a long search, is unable to do so.

Discouragement can follow in a situation as this by perhaps thinking “Why did I waste my time?” or “Am I dense?” or “Will I ever be competent as I need to be in English?” But this student wasn’t easily discouraged and thought “I’m going to find out why I can’t find this word awry” and asked the nearest adult “How do you find the word awry in the dictionary?”

The answer came back “It’s better to know how to spell awry before trying to look it up or, if you have the time, you can try to find it by reading through the words in the ar listings.” The student replies “I just did that.”

The adult thinks for a while and says “If you have a set of encyclopedias and can think of a subject where the word will probably be used, you can then look the subject up and read the article to find the word. However, it would be hard to choose a subject which uses the word awry, plus you would have to know what awry means to choose an article to read.”

Then the student, realizing the adult probably couldn’t spell it either and having a full cup of persistence, launched into all the words starting with the letter a and fell asleep about fifteen minutes later and was shaken awake by a stern “No sleeping in the library.” In those days, the English language, without malice, was constantly springing like a lion upon its learners and users. And still does to some extent.

Today we usually find a spelling by typing our best guess into a computer. The lure of money brought spell check software into being. Now it’s better than ever and it’s free and everywhere. Let us poor spellers of the world bow down to the lowly and holy computer and its programmers.

In the early 1980s, Word Finder: The Phonic Key to the Dictionary became a solution to the age-old situation described above while that age of agony was still happening.

To solve the problem, the book used a word’s sound (without its vowels) as an address to find the word, so awry would be found near the top of the R address, cynic under the SNK address along with scenic, snack, sink, sneak, and sneaky, etc.

The few sales of this reference book these days is an example of the way disruptive technology works. Today Word Finder is purchased by unsure spellers as a one-time insurance payment against the power going off. Imagine a poor speller having to write a letter or proposal by hand and wanting to spell every word correctly.

Where are the places or times where analog beats digital? The biggest one is anytime electronic power cannot be used.

Could there ever be such a thing as digital food? Is that what software is? What about digital medicine? Are we already halfway there? Will digital always have to have an analog setting for it to function? 


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