Memorization, American Dictionaries, and Biblical Names: An Opportunity for Personal-Best Learners

Most Americans will agree that Sunday school does not hurt young people. Tedious though lectures and discussions may be, they certainly inoculate listeners against the ego-trip horrors that await them later on in university lecture halls.

Memorizing Biblical names is equally wholesome.  Even better, it now represents an open invitation for young learners to go high tech, using electronic American dictionaries like www.dictionary.com to speed up the learning-testing process.  Here, by way of illustration, is a practical dictionary-based Biblical-name achievement format that can be used by elementary-level American students.

DEAR YOUNG LEARNER. . . . The purpose of this presentation is to give you a fast start in mastering Biblical proper names.  Our approach begins by focusing upon Biblical names whose dictionary status indicates their overall importance and practicality.

More specifically, we’ll use the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (RHU) as our primary source (also available via dictionary.com), and we shall begin with the 6-letter names in Genesis.  If you have RHU available, you can access these via the input of six question marks (??????) in the HEADWORD slot and “gen” in the DEFINITION slot.  If you’re using dictionary.com, though, jump ahead to the 18-name list below.

Restricting your names to headwords whose definition slots present gen (for Genesis) followed by a chapter-verse address means that your input will produce complete Biblical-name entries — headword, pronunciation, and definition(s) — for the following names: Amalek, Bethel, Bilhah, Canaan, Eden, Goshen, Hamite, Israel, Joseph, Lamech, Midian, Moriah, Nimrod, Rachel, Reuben, Simeon, Zillah, and Zilpah.

Keep this list.  But you can also rank the importance of these names according to the total number of definitions in their entries.  For example, JOSEPH, with 4 numbered definitions, would be ranked above Lamech, which has only one.  Overall, then, you can determine any Biblical proper name’s level of difficulty (or unfamiliarity) via the sum of its letters and its number of definitions —   George Kingsley Zipf and Chris “long tail” Anderson worked out these statistics, incidentally.

By way of getting the learning process started, you can now choose a preliminary group of names, e.g. AMALEK to GOSHEN, and prepare to answer “silent spelling bee” questions like the following:  Please identify the 6-letter Biblical name whose pronunciation is represented by /beth”euhl/ in www.dictionary.com (Random House Unabridged), and whose first definition (out of 2) is “a village in W Jordan, near Jerusalem; occupied by Israel since 1967: dream of Jacob. Gen. 28:19.”

By way of a test-taking start, you can ask a friend or family member to speak the questions spelling bee style.  And you can also build in stronger guessing clues by specifying specific letters, e.g., “a 6-letter Biblical name whose first four letters are B-E-T-H.”  Although www.dictionary.com will work well for you on a small scale, you’ll need your own RHU download ($49 via www.wordgenius.com ) for a major effort, e.g. 500 Biblical-name targets.  Your teacher, incidentally, can get a free professional copy of RHU via WordGenius’s Big Dictionary Project , and you yourself can get a 7-day free trial of RHU from the same source.

I should point out here that RHU and other American electronic dictionaries (Merriam Webster’s, etc.) are right now being used by over almost three billion offshore learners to master our new international language: Standard Worldwide American Dictionary English (SWADE).  As indicated by dictionary-based tests, this mastery comprises mainstream pronunciation, high-audibility articulation, vocabulary, famous-name knowledge, and even figure-of-speech awareness, e.g., “What does the proverb ‘Two heads are better than one’ mean to you?’”

Coming closer to home, your own direct TV experience probably underscores the quality of this international mastery, especially the recent on-camera interviews you may have seen with Egyptian rioters and Japanese refugees.  In this connection, to put it bluntly, I have yet to encounter a fellow American who did not agree that most of the rioters and refugees we’ve encountered on TV speak clearer and better articulated American English than many of our own college students!

Call it “interesting” or disgraceful, I feel this comparison opens up a marvelous personal-best opportunity for any American youngster over the age of 10 who elects to visit www.npe.ednews.org and examine the 5 eBooks listed there under AlzHope:  Shakespeare in the Head for Health®; BigVocab®; RecitationWhiz®; SpeakSharp®; and WordEdge®.

As you’ll discover, each of these 5 eBooks can be downloaded, browsed, and put to personal-best growth by any youngster who feels that spoken American English is worth mastering — especially at an age when language learning is as natural as kicking a soccer ball.  So why not start with Biblical names and then move on via AlzHope to spread your intellectual wings and play the browser-scan reader role for half an hour?

If this presentation comes across to you as someone selling Brownie cookies, you’re right on target, young friend.  At a time when tomorrow’s jobs and opportunities will call for “productive language interaction” (a fancy phrase meaning “salesmanship”), I personally feel that it’s your personal speaking voice which will open doors for you, along with your self confidence, just as I feel that your preliminary work on Biblical names is a magnificent start in the language-growth department (how many of your fellow students would travel this far on their own?).

As you’ll discover, Standard Worldwide American Dictionary English is a giant creature — far more Greco-Latin than Anglo — that now owns planet Earth as opposed to whatever minute variety of American slang is spoken in your own neighborhood.  So I hope you agree SWADE is a creature we all need to make friends with — especially when we’re young and quick learners!

Robert Oliphant has a PhD in English Philology from Stanford (1962), where he studied lexicography under Herbert Dean Meritt. His best known book is A Piano for Mrs. Cimino, the film version of which won a Monte Carlo prize for Bette Davis and continues to be widely shown internationally via film, vhf, and dvd. A WWII veteran (air corps), Oliphant worked as a professional musician up unti age 30.

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