DICTIONARIES AND LEXICONS.
None understand the value of dictionaries and lexicons so well as those who use them most. Every individual who reads any should, when reading, always keep by him an English Dictionary, such as Walker’s or Webster’s. An English word, the defination [sic] or meaning of which we are ignorant of, might as well, until understood, be Latin or Greek to those who do not understand these languages. We sometimes hear people complaining of an author for using “hard words,” when the fault is in themselves, for not seeking the meaning in a Dictionary. They are so cheap, that any one who can afford to read, can afford to get one.
–John R. Howard, The Christian Reformer, January 1836, page 32.
John R. Howard, of Paris, Tennessee, is Editor and publisher of The Christian Reformer; he includes this short note on the last page of the first issue–January 1836–of his paper. It is the first periodical of the Stone-Campbell reformation published in Tennessee and only lasts a year.
Flaunting your vocabulary is one thing; utilizing language precisely and clearly is another. One is arrogance, the other is a component of good teaching. Unfortunately some prize simplistic teaching, writing or preaching when sensitive teaching is the preferable option. Under no circumstance should a teacher or preacher speak circles around or over an audience. Such is a manifestation of pride. However, what self-respecting auditor would prefer to be spoon-fed rather than genuinely and sincerely taught, even challenged? I suspect one root of the complaint against what Howard calls “hard words” is pride of another sort. Rather than pride manifesting itself in a haughty display of vocabulary, it is pride in the lack of any vocabulary…anti-intellectual pride. Howard is unimpressed by it. I marvel at the depth of learning of his generation; they sought the very best available for themselves, their churches and communities. I also marvel when those who claim to be truth-seekers, who ought to be mature meat-eaters, so to speak, prefer instead a bland diet of skim milk (I’m thinking of Hebrews 5.12). When we settle for less in the pulpit, the classroom and the printed page are we truly heirs of these great reformers?