New SAT Reading Practice Test 36: Dictionary Passage

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Dictionary Passage

If you've ever played Scrabble, you know who
the ultimate arbiter in that word game is: You
challenge a word your opponent makes by reaching
for that infallible judge, the dictionary. After all, a
05dictionary is a definitive collection of words,
spellings, and meanings, right?
Actually, that isn't quite so, because while we
regard dictionaries as catalogs of correctness, the
truth is that dictionaries do not tell the whole story.
10We can think of them as horses pulling tidy carts of
our cluttered language, but in fact, as David Skinner
wrote in the New York Times (May 17, 2013), "in
following Webster's you're following the followers."
That's because language is an ever-changing
15thing in which new words are invented all the
time and old words are put to new use. Keeping up
with this is an impossible task, as the writers of the
Oxford English Dictionary, or OED, found out over
150 years ago.
20In 1879, members of the Philological Society
of London began working with James Murray
of Oxford University Press to produce a more
complete dictionary than what was available at
the time. In ten years, they estimated, they would
25publish a four-volume, 6,400-page dictionary
covering all English language vocabulary from the
Early Middle English period (c. AD 1150) onward.
However, five years along they were only as far as
the word "ant"! The task of tracking new words and
30new meanings of existing words while examining
the previous seven centuries of the language's
development proved monumental.
It turned out that their work required ten
volumes, included over 400,000 words, and was not
35fully published until 1924. Even then, the editors'
first job after completion of the monstrous OED
was to print an addendum, which came out a mere
nine years later.
As Skinner says, "There is always much more to
40know about a word than what a dictionary can tell
According to Global Language Monitor, a new
word is created every 98 minutes; this results in
an average of about 14 words per day. They come
45from regular people; from writers; from special-
ized, often scientific fields; and from the
A short list of the words spawned by the Internet
and its technologies includes "blog," "avatar," "spam,"
50and "webisode." Every year, Merriam-Webster's,
publisher of America's premier dictionary, adds a
jumble of words that have been coined by Web users
and promulgated across the Internet's multitudinous
channels: websites, chat rooms, forums, blogs, and,
55of course, social media platforms.
Just like other professional and social realms,
the Internet produces both new words and new
definitions of old words. The word "troll," for
example, dates back to 1616 as a name for "a
60dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting
caves or hills." In the last decade, however, "troll"
emerged as a term for someone who participates
in Internet discussions, not to contribute
meaningfully, but for the sole purpose of making
65harsh rebuttals and insults.
Dictionary makers are faced with tough
decisions. Any dictionary that doesn't include
Internet-produced words would be seen as
being behind the times, although many feel that
70dictionaries go too far in their role as recorders of
what gets said rather than rule-makers of correct
usage. One of the most controversial new entries
happened in 2013, when several major dictionaries
added a definition for "literally" that literally means
75the literal opposite of its meaning! To some it
seemed to erode the very purpose of a dictionary,
but consensus prevailed, and Merriam-Webster's
now lists "in effect; virtually" as one meaning of
literally. In response to criticism it received,
80Merriam-Webster's wrote, "the use is pure
hyperbole intended to gain emphasis." Seemingly
as a concession to those who call the definition
incorrect, it added, "but it often appears in contexts
where no additional emphasis is necessary."
85For those who grumble about the imperfection
that this entry enjoins, perhaps the best attitude
to have is that expressed on the Oxford English
Dictionary's Web site: "An exhilarating aspect of a
living language is that it continually changes."

1. The stance the author takes in the passage is best described as that of

  • A. a columnist discussing a topic of interest.
  • B. a pundit advocating support for a position.
  • C. a reporter investigating a current event.
  • D. a researcher cataloguing historical data.

2. According to the first two paragraphs, what claim does the author seek to refute?

  • A. The assertion that Merriam-Webster's is the best authority to follow
  • B. The assumption that Scrabble users rely on dictionaries for aid
  • C. The notion that dictionaries are absolute and undeniable authorities
  • D. The prediction that dictionaries will become cluttered over time

3. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 1-2 ("If you've … game is")
  • B. Lines 2-4 ("You challenge … dictionary")
  • C. Lines 4-6 ("After all, … right")
  • D. Lines 11-13 ("David Skinner … followers")

4. As used in line 32, "monumental" most nearly means

  • A. important.
  • B. impossible.
  • C. tremendous.
  • D. ungainly.

5. What idea does the author convey in lines 44-46 through the use of the succession of phrases "from regular people; from writers; from specialized, often scientific fields"?

  • A. Definitions of words reflect usage for varied purposes among different people.
  • B. Dictionaries must be accessible to users from all walks of life.
  • C. People from several professional fields contributed to the development of the OED.
  • D. Words come from many sources, including nonphilological ones.

6. What conclusion can best be drawn from lines 50-55 ("Every year, … social media platforms")?

  • A. Dictionaries are easily updated through online and other digital tools.
  • B. Navigating the Web requires adopting new meanings for existing words.
  • C. The Internet is the most prolific source of new words today.
  • D. Words gain not only meaning but also legitimacy through usage.

7. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 42-44 ("According to … per day")
  • B. Lines 58-61 ("The word … or hills")
  • C. Lines 61-65 ("In the last … insults")
  • D. Lines 72-75 ("One of the most … meaning")

8. What conclusion can be drawn from the data in the graphic?

  • A. Before 2014, fewer than five words from the Internet were added.
  • B. Fewer words from the Internet were added before 2009 than during that year.
  • C. More words from the Internet were added after 2010 than before.
  • D. So far, in the 21st century, twenty-six words from the Internet have been added.

9. As used in line 76, "erode" most nearly means

  • A. diminish.
  • B. corrode.
  • C. consume.
  • D. wear.

10. Based on the passage, which choice best describes the relationship between language and dictionaries?

  • A. Dictionaries reflect the flaws and inconsistencies of language.
  • B. Dictionaries attempt to address the idea that language changes over time.
  • C. Dictionaries establish definite meanings for new words.
  • D. Dictionaries support the opinion that the study of language is exhilarating.

11. The data in the graphic most clearly support which conclusion from the passage?

  • A. Dictionaries are imperfect records of the English language.
  • B. Language changes in response to the needs of those who use it.
  • C. Many new words originate from evolving technologies.
  • D. Online usage constantly adapts the meaning of existing words.