HIDDEN ILLITERACY: The Ignorance of Ignorance

Noah Webster, lexicographer and father of the first American Dictionary of the English Language, knew the importance of fully understanding individual words. He noted, “There is one remarkable circumstance in our own history which seems to have escaped observation...the mischievous effect of the indefinite application of terms.” Webster published his first dictionary in 1828, with the purpose to preserve the freedom of the people of the United States. He fervently believed that freedom, religious and political, could be lost when words are redefined and the original meaning and ideas behind the words are lost. He wrote, “...popular errors proceeding from a misunderstanding of words are among the efficient causes of our political disorders.”

The solution to this problem is to recognize in oneself and in others when a miscomprehension of ideas is occurring, and then to remedy it by getting the words involved fully defined. Mr. Hubbard called the action of fully defining words, “word clearing” and he laid down a procedure by which to accomplish this in a 1964 essay entitled “How to Clear a Misunderstood Word”:

“To clear a word one looks it up in a good dictionary. Dictionaries recommended are The Oxford English Dictionary or the Shorter Oxford Dictionary.

“The first step is to look rapidly over the definitions to find the one which
applies to the context in which the word was misunderstood. One reads the
definition and uses it in sentences until one has a clear concept of that meaning
of the word. This could require ten or more sentences.

“Then one clears each of the other definitions of that word, using each in
sentences until one has a conceptual understanding of each definition.

“The next thing to do is to clear the derivation—which is the explanation of
where the word came from originally. This will help gain a basic understanding
of the word.

“Don’t clear the technical or specialized definitions (math, biology, etc.) or obsolete (no longer used) or archaic (ancient and no longer in general use) definitions unless the word is being used that way in the context where it was misunderstood.

“Most dictionaries give the idioms of a word. An idiom is a phrase or expression
whose meaning cannot be understood from the ordinary meanings of the words.
For example, ‘give in’ is an English idiom meaning ‘yield.’ Quite a few words in
English have idiomatic uses and these are usually given in a dictionary after the
definitions of the word itself. These idioms have to be cleared.

“One must also clear any other information given about the word, such as notes
on its usage, synonyms, etc., so as to have a full understanding of the word.

“If one encounters a misunderstood word or symbol in the definition of a word
being cleared, one must clear it right away using this same procedure and then
return to the definition one was clearing. (Dictionary symbols and abbreviations
are usually given in the front of the dictionary.)”

Likewise, a person will exhibit specific phenomena when he or she has passed by a misunderstood word, and these are detailed in further writings by L. Ron Hubbard regarding Study Technology.

To discover more about the subject of the misunderstood word, and how to recognize and remedy this when it occurs, click here >>