Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/167

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
163
A VOCABULARY TEST

A large proportion of words, however, come indirectly from experience through the medium of words that have already become familiar. These new words are sometimes received as equivalents of other words, because of synonyms and definitions or of special descriptions. The greater part of them, however, gain their significance from their association with familiar words in various situations, just as the original words were gained from association with various real situations.

These truths may be illustrated by the definitions of gourd given by college students. 'A drinking cup made from the gourd vine.' 'A vegetable which grows in the ground having a hard shell and many seeds.' 'A vessel for holding water or other liquid.' 'A receptacle for carrying water about, usually of skin.' 'A water bottle made from a pumpkin or squash.' 'Vessel sometimes made by scooping out, for example, making a vessel by scooping out a pumpkin.' Evidently most of these definitions represent ideas gained from sentences in which the word, 'gourd' is used, though those who speak of them as 'pumpkins' or as a 'summer squash,' may have seen the real thing without the discriminating eye of the gardener or botanist. The idea that it is a vessel of some kind evidently predominates and this idea is sufficient for interpreting most sentences in which the word occurs.

It is interesting to notice the various forms of the subordinate idea of the object itself as the various persons picture it under the stimulus of the context. 'A shell of certain nuts, fruits and vegetables, or of the cocoanut, squash, cucumber, etc' l In many countries it is used as a receptacle for food and drink.' (A fruit on a tree whose shell is used for carrying water.' 'The dry fruit of some sort of tropical tree.' 'It is hard and round, and some are the size of an apple and rattle when you shake them.' 'A species of dried melon.' 'An old style wooden drinking vessel.' 'A hollow piece of cane.' 'A fruit characterized by the fibrous outer shell similar to the cocoanut.' Few of the writers of the above had a sufficiently correct idea of the article to be able to identify it if it were shown them. They react satisfactorily (to themselves) to the book situation though they would be laughed at by the gardener and botanist. It is an interesting fact that in a prominent college for women the word e decemvirate,' which only readers of Roman history would be likely to encounter, was correctly defined by most of the young ladies, while some could give no definition for gourd, and many others gave such definitions as have been quoted. This is a striking illustration of the difference between the word environment of scholastic halls and that of the industries and the literature of to-day.

The following definitions of gourd are inexplicable until one realizes that one word form has been mistaken for another. 'To spur