Lost for Words?

Lost for Words


Recently The Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter known as the OED in the interest of brevity) has added around one thousand new words to its online lexicon.


Some of the new entries include selfie (a photo taken on a smartphone of yourself that is usually uploaded to a social networking site) phablet (apparently used to describe a smartphone with a bigger screen) double denim (wearing two items of denim clothing together, jeans and denim jacket for instance) and babymoon (a holiday taken by expectant parents prior to the birth of a child or the time during which the family bond).


While the majority of us may find this mildly irritating at best, there is potential for dyslexics to find the inclusion of new words a real problem, particularly considering the tome is updated four times a year.


Take selfie for example. Surely using the words portrait photograph is sufficient. Just because the picture is taken with a different purpose in mind does not necessarily mean it needs its own word to distinguish it from a perfectly good pre-existing definition. The same goes for babymoon, what is the problem with using pre-existing words to explain what someone is doing rather than boiling it down to one for the sake of being trendy? And as for phablet, what is achieved by amalgamating two words to create an offshoot of something that is already in existence?


It is quite clear, and perfectly normal, that as the world evolves language should, and indeed does, change with it. That is not an issue. In having so many words specifically within the OED, unique problems arise due to how widely this particular dictionary is used.


While I am not bemoaning the evolution of language and accept that popular culture influences it, where will it stop? Given nobody knows when the world will cease to exist, in theory we have an infinite amount of time during which language will change and grow.


But if every single new word that is created ends up in the dictionary (OED assures us this isn’t the case despite the fact it might feel like it), are we not losing sight of a couple of things, particularly for dyslexic people?


One, the ever-increasing number of new words and definitions will exacerbate the processing difficulties that dyslexic people experience. Two, given the hardships dyslexics encounter with literacy, should responsibility not lie with the compilers of the OED to make the world of words easier to navigate by asking themselves if particular words really need to be in the dictionary? Because sometimes less is more. If you use too many words the ones that actually matter get lost, become meaningless and lose their power. And doesn’t that go against what the OED is trying to encourage given that they produce dictionaries that are ultimately used to expand our minds?


Maybe the OED needs to realise that expanding people’s minds should not involve cramming them full of unnecessary nonsense words which would only be to the detriment of the English language and those who speak it, none more so than the 10% of the UK population affected by dyslexia.


What’s in a name



Having dyslexia can be frustrating; people don’t always understand it, they make assumptions, make jokes (ok, so most of which I actually find quite funny) and there are things that take longer or more effort to do.

Often, for many of us, it has negative connotations attached to it. This is especially true if you had to struggle for a long time before your difficulties were recognised. However, once you have been diagnosed/ identified everything falls into place, right?

Does being given the ‘label’ dyslexic help?

Often, people talk about the moment they are diagnosed as “everything falling into place” or “like a weight being lifted off their shoulders”.

But what does this really mean?

When I was diagnosed/ identified, it was just that, like everything falling into place, I could finally put a name to my frustrations and stop self diagnosing some of my symptoms/traits like poor short term memory or believing the negative things that had been said or implied over the years.

But, a diagnosis/identification wasn’t enough! I had questions and I wanted to ‘fix’ it….

There is no fix, we all know that, but there are ways of making life easier.

So, I now had to unpick my dyslexia, work out what my strengths and weaknesses were, what was actually part of my dyslexia and what was just my dizziness or clumsiness.

I had to work out what were the coping strategies that were going to work for me. This is a slow process, it takes time, effort, it’s frustrating, there is a lot of trial and error and I think, you are never fully done; every day is a school day!

I wasn’t diagnosed/ identified until I was in my mid 20s and as I was in further education, I got a lot of help to get me through my course and many of my techniques came from that, but it was only through working with Dyslexia Scotland 4 years after I was diagnosed/ identified that I really started to understand my dyslexia. I began to understand what it means and what is available, knowing other people who are dyslexic and how their traits differ from mine all really helped me.

So what’s in a name? Well nothing really, putting a name to it isn’t the end of the story, knowing you’re dyslexic is helpful and like everything falling into place, but it is only in truly understanding your dyslexia that you can start to move on from the frustration, begin to make your dyslexia work for you. Playing to your strengths and not dwelling on your weaknesses.

Volunteering!! What is it good for….,


I’m not too sure what others think, but before I started volunteering with Dyslexia Scotland I didn’t really think of it as something young people did other than if they happened to have spare time, or needed it for CV purposes. Sure, it looks good on the CV, but it offers so much more than that.

I really think it’s the best way to learn and grow, and not primarily because you are helping other people, although that’s always a good thing. In my experience, it’s not so much about what you learn (although that’s obviously important too) but the way in which you are able to do it. Because it’s on a voluntary basis, nobody expects you to know everything there is to know about what it is you’re doing (in my case, organising and helping to re-launch Dyslexia Scotland’s Resource Centre – watch this space for more details about that).

To me, the confidence you are given by knowing you are helping others while developing your skills and consequently growing as a person is second to none. Given the state of the UK job market today, it has never been more important to be self-assured.

In a world where exam systems are measured by grades and outcomes and workplaces are driven by targets and timescales, its refreshing to have an avenue where young people can learn the value of saying “You know what? I might have difficulty with X or have never done Y, but that’s OK, and I’m a better person having attempted it.” Because realising you are never going to get everything right all the time and making mistakes is OK is, in my opinion, part of being truly confident. In fact, I would say that its life’s most important lesson. Nothing teaches it better than volunteering.

Maybe it’s because even just by talking to other people, you realise that nobody is perfect (yes, even in that seemingly flawless work environment). Perhaps it’s the fact that, even when you’re learning new skills and might be a bit of a novice or a little apprehensive, you’re still doing great things.

That’s the unique thing that volunteering teaches younger people. Because, as much as some people wouldn’t like to admit it, we don’t have as much life experience compared to the older generations. Not only is volunteering a brilliant way to gain that experience and the confidence that comes with it, but you’re a saner person for having done it that way. At least, I’d like to think so.

The ones it hurts, are those who need us the most.

Following the discovery last week that 14 UK charities agreed to increase the salaries of their CEOs despite a fall in donations, charities haven’t been getting great press at the moment.  It is little wonder that William Shawcross of the Charity Commission is worried that all the negative publicity surrounding this issue will adversely affect charitable organisations.  However, it’s at this point that people must stop and remind themselves of all the good charities do, Dyslexia Scotland being but one of many.

Let’s take Dyslexia Scotland as an example.  Without our helpline there are countless people that would not be advised, how to help their children, employees, students and themselves.  If the tutor service did not exist it would be more difficult for dyslexics to reach their full potential.  These are just two ways in which Dyslexia Scotland endeavours to help people who really need it.

We could not offer either of these services, not to mention the great number of other things we do, without proper direction.  This is why the vilification of third sector CEOs in the media, as is currently happening, is terribly wrong.

Instead of demonising them or tarring all those who hold that position with the same brush, consider that the very running of the organisation rests squarely on their shoulders.  Whatever happens responsibility lies with them.

Maybe we should think about not just the responsibilities CEOs have, but the obligations the media has to charitable organisations.  Because if they take this vendetta too far, they risk charities being unable to do an awful lot of good as a result of character deformation by the media discouraging donations.

Not only is this unfair on hardworking CEOs, but it also disadvantages countless people who may not receive support they desperately need due to lack of funds.  If this happens, there are no winners, only losers.  And the sad fact is it’s those most in need, charity service users, that risk losing out most of all through no fault of their own.