When reading, do you stop to look up a word you don't know?

This is me. Once it became trivial to look things up, I do. Before, I usually couldn’t be bothered.

Depends on where and when. Reading in my chair in the living room, with the dictionaries a few feet away? Yes I’ll look it up. All snuggly warm in my bed? I’m still going to not know that word the next morning.

In truth, the last few books I’ve read have not been at all challenging. I enjoy learning new words. Guess I should raise my standards.

I also do it all the time when using my Kindle - AND will note that they come with two English dictionaries installed (my 3rd Gen or “Keyboard” model did, anyway) - one American oriented and one British oriented, you can change which you want it to use by default in its settings menu.

Oh yeah, with the school stuff I know exactly what you mean. I never get it when you Americans discuss that on this board either. Stuff like “oh, he is a sophomore” and I’m left wondering if that means old or young, normal or wildly inappropriate for the situation. And also the marking system. I get the letters, but then I read “he had a 2.3 grade point average” and it means nothing to me. Was he an idiot, a genius, an average student? Baffling stuff. There should be a special dictionary so you can double click on the term “2.8 GPA” and it tells you “this person is an American clever clogs” or something!

My international education amounts to: 8.5, 6 and 2:1. The first out of 10, the second out of 7 and the last out of the insane English system. Who is ever going to know what any of that means?!

When reading in bed, I usually have two books - the one I’m reading, and a dictionary. If I come across a word I don’t know, I’ll look it up in my dictionary, but if the dictionary doesn’t have the word, I’m usually too lazy to look up the word later.

It’s certainly true for me, either way. I definitely notice more distraction than usual after I come across an unfamiliar word - it kind of takes me out of the book. But If I go to a dictionary the rest of the WEEK is gone. I start reading and reading, and before you know it I don’t even remember I was reading a damn book.

Before I got the Kindle I relied on context (and a pretty decent vocabulary). Now it’s great: I get the definition so easily without the temptation of the dictionary with all the lovely words.


Kindergarten - normally 5 years old. (I, for instance, turned six about three weeks before the end of kindergarten.)
First grade - normally six years old.
&c, &c, up through 12th (normally 17 years old).

High school - normally 9th-12th grades.
Junior high - normally 7th-8th grades.
Middle school - in my current city (the only place I’ve ever seen “middle school” vice “junior high”), 6th-8th grades.

Freshman - first year of a four-year high school (age 14) or college (age 18).
Sophomore - second year thereof.
Junior - third year thereof.
Senior - fourth year thereof.

A average - 4.0
B average - 3.0
C average - 2.0
D average - 1.0

So the sophomore is either a high-schooler (probably 15 or 16) or a second-year college kid (probably 19 or 20). And the 2.8 GPA is above average, but not stellar.


Like a lot of others in this thread, I’m a whole lot more likely to look words up if I’m reading on my Kindle with its handy built-in dictionary than I am if I have to haul my lazy butt out of my chair and go get the dictionary off the shelf.

And speaking of Les Miserables and free ebooks, once I downloaded a French-English dictionary (it was either free or very cheap), I started to enjoy all those pre-1923 books, with their liberal use of French words and phrases, a whole lot more. The only catch is that I have to change my default dictionary back and forth depending on what I’m reading.

I’ve always looked up unfamiliar words if I have fairly easy access to a dictionary. When I was a little kid, I’d sit on the couch with a dictionary to one side of me. I was a BIG fan of Andre Norton, who apparently thought that she should enrich her young readers’ vocabularies with every book.

I love the little feature on my nook that lets me look up unfamiliar words. I just wish that the nook knew more words.

When it’s necessary to understand what I’m reading.

Before I had a Kindle almost never (unless I was reading in French which my vocabulary is much smaller than in English).

Now that I have a Kindle - yes I do, and sometimes I’ll Google things, too. I am currently reading a book that is a history of kitchen utensils written in British English so sometimes and unfamiliar term is a Briticism for something I know by another name, and sometimes it’s something I’ve never heard of and I can look up an image or more information soooo easily with my Kindle it’s just not funny.

My mom is a librarian who loves to run to the dictionary immediately when coming across a word she doesn’t know, when we’re arguing over something, when pronunciation is unclear, etc. 18 years of this gave me a surprisingly strong aversion to dictionaries. Unless it’s driving me desperately crazy or is essential for some academic or work assignment, my default is to spend a few seconds trying to figure it out from context and then skip over it.

If I’ve got a dictionary or an internet connected computer handy, I sure do. If not I make note of the word to look it up later, and work it out from context (and facepalm if I’m wrong).

One annoying result of googling, though, is sometimes Google’s results can be less than on-point, even if you get the right thing in most results later. One specific case of this is when I was reading and a character wearing a chaplet. I assumed basically what it was (mostly right, though, thanks to failing to consult the picture on the cover, I had the shape wrong), then googling when I got home.

For some odd reason, Google threw up this, and variants thereof, instead of this and other references to them and the beads used for them, and I was very, very confused, until I tried it again a few days later, for some reason.

<bolding mine>

Same here. I love the Kindle built-in dictionary function. Takes a few seconds to look up the word, and right back to reading.

In the past, I used to read through the sentence and try to figure out want the odd word meant, and would look it up later to verify.

Sometimes the situation is ineluctable. One may be perusing a piece of adoxography or even an amphigory, or some chrestomathic treatise, when one encounters a daedalian circumlocution of which one has hitherto, perhaps by reason of didaskaleinophobia, remained nescient. A figurative eroteme appears above one’s brow. Without looking up such sesquipedalian examples of hellenomania, how will one attain the necessary doctiloquence? Only a fysigunkus would refuse.

… and it seems Colophon is also a fan of the thesaurus…

Not that one, but I’ve come across amaranth. I knew it as a color (a very specific shade of purple); when I encountered it in a context in which it seemed to refer to a plant, I did look it up. Turns out the color gets its name from the plant.
If I can figure out the meaning from context, I usually don’t look it up. It depends on how easy it is to do so, though: if there is a physical dictionary nearby or I can access the internet, I may look up a word. If I’m on a plane, I’m very unlikely to make a note and look it up later.

I know the plant called Amaranthus so would assume it had something to do with that plant.

I love fancy word so yeah. I don’t see it as a chore; it’s fun for me.

Heck, I’ll do it if I hear an unfaliliar word on the TV.

OK, I read about 70 pages last night, and I have a list of words/Britishisms with which I was not completely familiar. I’m delighted to have these new words in my ever-growing vocabulary.


  1. Puerile – of or relating to childhood. (I had an idea it meant “childish” based on the context in which it was used)

  2. Frisson – a pleasureable sensation of fright or gloom. (I now adore this word and will use it often)

  3. Quorum – a select group, i.e. members of a council. (Again, I could figure it out from the context, but didn’t know the exact definition)

  4. Tractable – capable of being easily controlled. (I kinda knew this word but I don’t think I’ve ever used it in conversation or writing, so it’s good to have the exact definition under my belt now)

  5. Reticence – having restraint in speaking or communicating.

  6. Carapace – a hard surface crust, or a bony shiled covering the back of an animal. (Didn’t even know how to pronounce this one! I’ve seen it before in writing but have never heard it out loud.)

Britishisms: (Gracer, I hope you can help me with these!)

  1. Paracetemol – I see this word often in Britishy books. Is it your term for what Americans commonly call “aspirin”? Is it a common pain reliever?

  2. “He’s just sticking two fingers up at me.” – Refers to a rude gesture? Like how I might say, “He’s flipping me the bird” or “He’s giving me the finger”?

  3. Holdall – a suitcase?

  4. Sixth-form prefect – I guess that it’s like a hall monitor for a sepcific grade? Wasn’t one of the Weasley boys a prefect in Harry Potter?

  5. Recalcitrant zip – Referring to a stubborn zipper? Or is a “zip” something else?

  6. Casual vacancy – The name of the book! I shall not say what the American term is, although there definitely is one, since to do so would give away a part of the book. I jumped into it without having any clue what a “casual vacancy” is and I’m glad I did. Is it a pretty common British term? Do most Brits understand the meaning of the book title straight away? Because I doubt many Americans do…

  7. Board rubber – An eraser for a chalkboard?

  8. Spindle-shanked – Said as an insult. Whatever does it mean??