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Remedying the Third Barrier to Study:
The Misunderstood Word

A misunderstood word will remain misunderstood until you clear the meaning of that word.

You clear a word by looking up its meaning in a dictionary and getting a full understanding of that word.

Once you have looked up all the definitions of a word and you fully understand the word and you know how to use it, that word can be called cleared. That’s because its meaning and use are clear to you and there is nothing about the word that you do not understand.

There are exact steps to follow to clear any word you come across in your studies that you do not understand.

Steps to Clear a Word

1. Have a good dictionary close by and available while reading so you can look up the meaning of any word you do not fully understand. A good dictionary does not include difficult words in the definitions. A good dictionary makes it possible for you to clear a word without having to look up a lot of other words too.

2. When you come across a word or a symbol that you do not understand, find it in your dictionary. If more than one meaning is listed, quickly look over each of the definitions to find the one which best fits and explains the word in the context it was used. Context means the words or short sections of words that come before or after a particular word that help to explain its full meaning. For example, the context of the word “bat” is different in these two sentences and, as you can see, the sentence helps to explain what the word means:

1. He picked up a bat and hit the ball.

2. He saw the bat fly up into the tree.

Read the definition that applies to the correct context and make sure you fully understand it. For example, a dictionary might list the following:

bat: 1. a stick or club used to
strike a ball in sports. 2. a small
animal like a mouse that has
wings and flies around at night.

Dictionaries usually give examples of how a word is used in a sentence. But to clear the word, you must make up sentences of your own using that word until a) you fully understand it, b) you are comfortable using it and c) you have a clear understanding of the meaning of that word.

When you fully understand a word, you do not have to think about it. You just know it. You might need to make up ten or more sentences to get a full understanding of that word.

3. The next step is to clear each of the other listed definitions of that word. Read the definition and clear up anything in the listed meaning you do not understand. Use the word with that meaning in several sentences until you understand it. Then take the next definition, read it and use it in sentences.

Continue like this until you have cleared each of the listed definitions in sentences and have a full understanding of each one. When a word has several different meanings, you can’t just clear one definition and say you fully understand the word. You must be able to understand the word when you see it again with a different meaning. So clear each of the listed definitions.

4. The next thing to do is to clear the derivation. This means where the word came from. Knowing where the word came from will help you get a basic understanding of the word.

5. The dictionary you are using might include idioms in the definition. An idiom is a group of words that, when used together, has a meaning different from what the words would suggest with their usual meaning. For example, to catch someone’s eye is an idiom meaning “to get someone’s attention.” If there are any idioms listed in the dictionary for the word you are looking up, read them and use them in sentences until you have an understanding of them.

6. Clear any other information about the word that might be listed in the dictionary, such as notes on how it is used (its usage) and any synonyms. Synonyms are words that have a similar meaning, but are not the same. For example, “thin” and “slim” are synonyms.

7. If you see a misunderstood word or symbol in any of the definitions, idioms or synonyms of a word you are looking up, you must clear it right away using the same procedure listed above. Then return to the definition you were originally clearing.

The meanings of symbols and abbreviations used in a dictionary are usually included in the front of the book and you can look them up there. However, if you find yourself spending a lot of time clearing words or looking up the meaning of symbols or abbreviations, you should get a simpler dictionary.

Here’s an example of using the above steps to clear a word. Let’s say you are reading the sentence “He used to clean chimneys for a living,” and you’re not sure what “chimneys” means.

You find “chimney” in the dictionary and look through the definitions and find the one that best fits the context. The definition says “a flue for the smoke or gases from a fire.”

You’re not sure what “flue” means, so you look that up. The dictionary says a flue is “a pipe through which smoke or heat from a fire can pass out of a building.” That fits and makes sense, so you use it in some sentences until you have a clear understanding of it.

“Flue,” in this dictionary, has other definitions as well and you would clear and use each in sentences.

Next, look up the derivation of the word “flue.”

When you have fully cleared the word “flue,” go back to “chimney.” The definition, “a flue for the smoke or gases from a fire,” now makes sense, so you use the word “chimney” in sentences until you have a clear understanding of it.

You then clear the other definitions. Let’s say the dictionary has an obsolete (old and no longer used) definition and another definition that is listed as being geological (having to do with the study of rocks and minerals). You would skip both of these, as they aren’t in common use.

Now clear up the derivation of the word “chimney.” You find in the derivation that it originally came from the Greek word “kaminos,” which means “furnace.”

If the word had any synonyms, usage notes or idioms, they would all be cleared too.

That would be the end of clearing “chimney.”

This is the way any word should be cleared.

Simple Words

When looking up and clearing words in a dictionary, remember that it is not just the big words or technical words that are the most misunderstood.

An actual test on a group of students found that the most frequent words that prevented understanding were simple English words, such as “a,” “the,” “exist,” “such,” etc.

To get the full meaning of these simple English words, and to get a real understanding of them, it takes a big dictionary. Small dictionaries seem to suppose “everybody knows the meaning of these small common words”—but many people don’t.

It is almost incredible to see that someone who has completed years of study on very difficult subjects at a university, and has graduated, still does not know the meaning of words like “or,” “by” or “an.” It is hard to believe, but it often happens. But when this student looks up and finds the meanings of the words he did not understand, his years of study can be changed from a lot of questions and confusions to a certainty and an understanding of what he learned.

What is a cleared word?

A cleared word is one which has been cleared to the point of full understanding by looking up in a dictionary each of the common meanings of that word, plus any technical or specialized meanings of that word that are connected to the subject you are studying.

NOTE: In order to continue, you must complete all previous steps in this course. Your last incomplete step is
NOTE: You had several answers that were incorrect. In order to continue, you should re-read the article and then test your understanding again.