Hello,

It recently struck me how differently people answer vocabulary related questions asked by various people on this website. Some people explain words themselves, without feeling the need to use a dictionary (or I would assume they don't basing on the way they word their replies), whilst other people refer to a particular dictionary in their reply (sometimes even with helpful links to the online edition of a dictionary). Also, some people tend to describe how they'd use a particular word/phrase or how it's used where they live, instead of consulting corpora. Which way do you think we should deal with vocabulary questions? Are entries in the Oxford English Dictionary more valuable than explanations given by an individual speaker of English basing on their personal experiences and feeling for the word?

Personally, I value all kinds of replies to vocabulary questions. Knowing how individual speakers use words is very valuable, and it's always very intriguing to learn about regional variation when an American poster tells us they use a word differently from the way a British poster argued, and so on. However, I wouldn't be ready to put dictionaries and corpora into cold storage, either. As far as I know, consulting a dictionary or a corpus is the only way to deal with a vocabulary enquiry if we want to be as objective as possible in our replies. The compilers of dictionaries have, after all, spent a lot of time editing dictionary entries; thus we could count on dictionary entires being if possible even more accurate than spontaneously given explanations.

I would be very happy to hear from you and about what you think of this matter.
Hi Englishuser!
I think that if a person explains to you with his/her words it means that they know what they´re talking about..I don´t mean that the ones that posts a link don´t know what they´re saying..pff..I don´t know what I´m saying!!:S:Shehe..anyways, in my opinion both are a graet way to explain something..
Hi Pucca,

Thank you very much for your reply.

Yes, there is no doubt that most people who tell us what a word means according to them is usually a good, even outstanding, explanation. However, as I state in my post, I'm less certain about whether their explanation is the most objective one possible. I don't think many of these people who explain words without a dictionary actually know all the words (and all their distinct meanings) in the 20-volume OED, for instance.
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Well, Englishuser, I'm one of those people who talks about a word or phrase from my own experiene. If someone asks about a meaning in a way I don't expect, I'll consult a dictionary - www.m-w.com is one of my favorites, because it has usage notes.

I don't think anyone alive knows all the words in the entire OED. Nor do I think that English learners need to hear about all the meanings that a word has. Is it useful to someone learning about affect and effect to hear about how affect is a noun in psychology? No, I don't think so. It's better at this stage to hear that "affect is the verb."

People who post here can consult an online dictionary themselves. But they can't get a native speaker's view on how to use the word as easily from a dictionary. I think it's more valuable than simply parroting what can be looked up by the original poster him- or herself.

If several people come on here and agree that they want the dictionary definition too, then I will change my ways.
Hi Grammar Geek,

Thank you for your reply. Like you said, no one would know all the entries in the OED by heart. That's why I think people should realise that their knowledge of English vocabulary is limited, and the only way of giving satisfactory explanations when people ask about a word is to look it up in the OED. The OED is not availble free of charge online.

Also, it annoys me when native speakers write 'we say' instead of 'English speaking people in the San Fransisco area often say', for instance. I think using 'we' is a bit pompous as very few native speakers are aware of how common a certain expression is in other parts of the English speaking world. This is especially true for rather unusual idioms some people ask about. When a person would like to know what an archaic idiom means, I think you should also state that it's used very rarely amongst native speakers these days. It might also be good to refer to a corpus in such cases.
Hi Englishuser,
Maybe you´re right saying that what people explain is not always good...but I still think that if someone explains something with his/her own words it´s because he/she knows what he/she is saying. I mean that if you don´t know how to explain something with your own words and if you´re not sure that you´re right, most of people won´t reply to the post..that´s my point of view...Emotion: stick out tongue
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Hi Pucca,

You wrote:
I mean that if you don´t know how to explain something with your own words and if you´re not sure that you´re right
Who cares about if I'm right, as long as the explanation I give is correct?