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Dictionaries are a treasure trove of interesting discoveries, as I found out when I was about eight.

I loved doing my English homework, especially looking up words in the dictionary – flipping through the pages to find some new word and discovering the secrets of that word in the definition. I loved the sense of achievement at adding another word to my vocabulary. I still enjoy flipping through a dictionary from time to time, just for fun.

Now we have electronic dictionaries which are a such a quick and easy way of finding words; yet people often forget to use this wonderful tool. Perhaps it’s because we have the magic of the spell checker so we don’t feel the need of a dictionary to check spelling.

It’s worth remembering that the spell checker can’t tell you whether you’re using the right word; only that it is a word. For example, the spell checker can’t tell you whether the wine you are offering with your meal is complementary or complimentary – both these words are spelled correctly here but mean two completely different things. The spell checker also won’t pick up whether the word ‘conservation’ has been miswritten as ‘conversion’ (as I saw recently on a Member of Parliament’s official profile).

The ‘near enough is good enough’ philosophy is attractive on the one hand – how lovely to be so relaxed about writing – and certainly takes a lot of pressure off the writer. But what about the poor reader?

We can forgive some mistakes of course. The odd small typo here or there is probably not going to make the whole world come crashing down. But using the wrong word can cause misunderstanding or lead to someone performing the wrong action (such as your customer demanding a free glass of wine when you merely intended to advise them on a wine that would go well with their meal).

So don’t forget to use the dictionary. Use it often. Enjoy using it.

If you don’t own a dictionary, put it on your Christmas list. Buy your children a dictionary and play word games instead of video games sometimes. But don’t use any old dictionary. Buy or subscribe to a reputable dictionary like the Macquarie Dictionary and Macquarie Dictionary Online or the Australian Oxford Dictionary.

Maybe you’ll even get to love learning about words as much as I do!

For help writing clear, concise communications, contact Concise Writing Consultancy on 02 9238 6638.