What does "dismay" mean? I have been trying to understand it for two weeks, I hate it!!!
I have checked all the most important dictionaries, and they all give different definitions. I am trying to learn new vocabulary, so I just need a very simple and clear definition, not necessarily precise, that is very easy to understand and remember. Not necessarily precise because... I think it's "linguistically impossible" and "not worth it" to try to find the exact meaning some words. You'll refine it by reading, over time.
Anyway, the problem is it's not clear what the main connotations of certain words are, because dictionaries are often misleading. So, as an example, saying that "disappointed" means "sad and upset" is basically useless. To understand it, you need to understand the main point, and the main point is "you expected or hoped something would happen, but it did not, damn!". You often are sad, yeah, but you could also be a bit annoyed, so I hope you understand the importance of understanding the main connotation and context of a word, and not focusing on misleading details.
Here's what I wrote in my flashcard for "consternation":

a feeling of fear or worry that causes confusion, when something unpleasant happens
Ex: Much to her parents' consternation, she had decided to not go to college. - A new power station is being built much to the consternation of environmental groups

So it seems to focus on "worry" and feeling confused because something bad happened. Do you think it's ok?

And now... what the heck do I write for "dismay"? Every dictionary focuses on something different... one says it implies worry and loss of courage, another says it is just disappointment, etc. This is my current definition, taken from Longman, but I am not satisfied with it:

a strong feeling of being worried, sad, or disappointed that you feel when something unpleasant happens.
Ex: To her dismay, her name was not on the list. - They were dismayed to find that the ferry had already left. - They watched in dismay as the house burned.

It's not easy to understand or remember, and being worried doesn't seem to go well with being disappointed, in my opinion. I really think "dismay" has more to do with disappointment than anything else, but I am not sure. The new definition I have in mind would involve being "disappointed, dejected, disheartened". But that's still a mess, lol. Ok, enough of this, I am going crazy.
I am dismayed that you are having so much trouble with vocabulary. I wish sincerely that I could help you. Don't be discouraged. Often, it is best to look at how the word is used in real-life situations. I really like the COCA for this as a supplement to the dictionaries. For instance, it has 1690 examples in context of the verb "dismay" taken from many different sources: fiction, non-fiction, academic, news programs, magazines, and even spoken conversations.
http://www.americancorpus.org /
Thanks Alphecca,
it's just that if I don't know what certain words imply, I can't even understand any examples, you know. For example, I would have no idea what you meant by "dismayed" in your post. So what would you say "dismay" means? It seems to connote disappointment and sadness most of the times, but I don't think you just used it with that meaning, so I am confused again. Thanks. Emotion: smile
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Focusing on the connotative meanings of words, I have to admit that even when applied to your two examples, your flash definition of C. lacks the element of befuddlement and even anger which the word carries in those situations.

I think it's naive to expect that your shift away from the denotative meanings will necessarily simplify things, or facilitate a "more useful" definition comprising fewer words and going right to the heart of the matter - particularly when a word has multiple senses.

For example, a point comes to mind concerning your two words, which could not be addressed without considering them jointly: In both cases there's personal involvement. Your personal loss with D. may be greater than with C., but D. also carries the greater sense of impotence. C. may "really be none of your business," but you're emotionally involved as a matter of principle. With D., part of the dismay rests in your acceptance that there's nothing you can do to save the burning house. With C., there may be confusion, as you say, but you're in no way resigned to the situation. In fact you may be determined to reverse it. (Elmer Fudd?)
Edit. The compare and contrast exercise is essential in pinning these things down! I think you and A/S are on the same track with reading and corpus.

But you just have to find your own way to remember things - something that resonates with you, in terms of your own experience. It may be a picture, or a feeling, or a smell, or a phrase, or someone you know - or a cartoon character! I don't think there's an easy way.
AvangiBut you just have to find your own way to remember things - something that resonates with you, in terms of your own experience. It may be a picture, or a feeling, or a smell, or a phrase. I don't think there's an easy way.
Hi Avangi,
thanks. Yes, that's what I am trying to do, and I have seen the best way for me is to understand the general meaning and then remember it because I associate it with some good typical examples. (Ex: gruesome => gruesome murder, billowing => billowing smoke, etc). The meaning doesn't need to be precise, I just need a general simple idea of the main point a certain word denotes (sorry that earlier I said "connotes", but I think important and obvious connotations should be considered part of what a word "denotes").
But... sometimes I really have a hard time figuring out what a word means. The main dictionaries don't agree with each other, and I go crazy every time. Merriam Webster seems to focus on worry or fear and loss of courage or determination, while others seem to focus on disappointment and sadness. It just drives me nuts. That's what I mean when I say I try to understand the main point. You can't say "worry" and "disappointment" are the same, or "sadness" and "fear", so if I don't get the main point, I really can't get the meaning of a word.
From the explanations and the examples, it seems "dismay" is a feeling of sadness or disappointment caused by an event that you feel kind of helpless about. But is it so? Note I am discarding MW connotations of fear and worry here though. Damn dictionaries. You can never know what the heck a word is supposed to mean.
Sometimes I wish we had the famously missing official defender of the Queen's English. But I know in my heart if such were installed, I'd be seriously consternated. As we like to say over here, "It's a free country!"
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Compare and contrast!

I was dismayed when I learned that my favorite niece had started smoking.
I was disappointed that I didn't win the mega lottery with the 1 million dollar jackpot.
I was elated when the mega lottery drawing picked all 6 of my numbers. I was dismayed when I discovered that the dog had eaten my lottery ticket.
I was devastated when I learned that the plane my family was on crashed into the sea.
Ok! Thanks! I think I got it "more or less" right then. It's a reaction to a bad event which makes you sad or disappointed, and you feel kind of helpless. Thanks!Emotion: smile