Word of the day: lemma

LEMMA

Today, I talked to my professor Denny Wilkins, and he said he has a gift for me! He posted in a comment earlier that it will help me with Word of the Day. I hope so. Sometimes I have a tough time thinking/coming across words to write about.

In preparation for this gift, he told me, I should look up Theodore Bernstein. An assignment! I typed the name into my Google homepage, wondered why results weren’t appearing, realized I spelled it wrong, typed it correctly and got this:

Theodore Menline Bernstein – former assistant managing editor of The New York Times, author, Columbia University School of Journalism professor, prose polisher and syntax surgeon.

He co-wrote seven grammar and usage books, including a reverse dictionary.

I thought the only way to way to organize words in a dictionary was alphabetically by the first and subsequent letters. In a reverse dictionary, words are still organized alphabetically, but by their suffixes. This way, if you wanted to find a rhyming word, it’d be easier. I’m sure there are other reasons why this way of organization could help.

In my research about dictionary organization, I came across the word lemma. Words like eat, eating, ate, eaten are all represented by one word in a dictionary: eat. This combination of words is called a lexeme – the family of word forms. Lemma, or headword, is the word that you’d find the dictionary entry under.

So, I don’t know what this mysterious gift is, but I have learned a lot from this clue. Maybe it might just be a reverse dictionary!

A Bernstein photo from Getty Images can be found here, but I probably shouldn’t post it.

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