Word Ways


John Taylor


As I pondered how to frame the topic announced in the title of this paper, I realized that first of all I had to embark on a journey of intellectual archaeology. In the nine different courses I regularly teach, in composition, literature, and linguistics courses alike, I emphasize the use of a desk dictionary as a curricular survival tool, especially in this current mania of standardized testing. When exactly did I begin to have my deep, abiding passion for dictionaries and how did that influence the development of my career as a professor of English and applied English Linguistics? For the past twenty years in my English 201 Composition II course, I have required my students to write a "Literacy Narrative" as a first paper in which they tell the story of how they first learned to read. They increasingly have an initial negative reaction to this topic, but, once they start to do the reflection needed, positive attributes emerge as they recover the happy details of grandparents, parents, or siblings reading to them. Likewise for me in this paper, I began to trace back the arcs of development which have culminated in my current teaching roles as a pedagogical bricoleur who teaches rhetoric, applied linguistics, lexicology, General Semantics, and the literature of science fiction. And this has enabled me to recover warm feelings not only about texts well-read and still valued 45 years later but also about wise mentors who led me on the word-filled journey for the last half century.