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When I was a kid, I discovered among my parents’ books an ornately illustrated volume of the 10 Commandments. It looked like it was probably a reproduction of an illuminated manuscript that had been painstakingly created by medieval monks. The writing was big and old fashioned; the language was King James.

Something about that book drew me to it, although it wasn’t exactly because I liked it. Taken together, the words & the pictures & the “THOU SHALT NOT’s effectively conveyed a solemn warning about transgressing God’s commandments.

And the scariest one for me was the seventh commandment, “THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.” You wouldn’t think that would be scary to a little kid, but it was. The reason it was scary was because I had no idea what adultery was. I knew it HAD to be serious, because it was stuck right between “THOU SHALT NOT KILL” and “THOU SHALT NOT STEAL.” I knew what those two meant and I knew they were both REALLY bad.

So I knew adultery was something really bad, but I had no idea what it was. I was afraid I might accidentally commit adultery and never know it.

So I put my reasoning skills to work. I used my best trick for figuring out words, which was to relate the word I didn’t know to words I did know.

Say, I came across the verb “liquefy.” Well, I knew what the word “liquid” meant, and I could tell this was a verb, so it must mean “to make something liquid” – sort of like what I liked to do to my hard ice cream.

The only word I could...

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