A little while ago, I had the pleasure to communicate with Richard Lederer. He is the author of more than 30 books about language, history, and humor, including his best-selling Anguished English series and his current book,Presidential Trivia. He has been profiled in magazines as diverse as The New Yorker, People, and the National Enquirer and frequently appears on radio as a commentator on language.
Dr. Lederer's syndicated column, "Looking at Language," appears in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States. He has been named International Punster of the Year and Toastmasters International's Golden Gavel winner.
I am sharing this plaidoyer and advice below. Blue remarks are my additions...
Add Wealth to Your Vocabulary
by Richard Lederer
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once declared that “language is the skin of living thought.” Holmes recognized that just as our skin bounds and encloses our body, so does our vocabulary bound and enclose our mental life.
Suppose, for example, you wish to describe something of great size. You can haul out those two old stand-bys big and large. But, if you possess an extensive vocabulary, you can press into service an army of more powerful and muscular adjectives: tremendous, immense, enormous, huge, vast, or gigantic.
If, in addition to size, you wish to convey the suggestion of solidity and immovability, you can use words such as massive, bulky, unwieldy, jumbo, elephantine, and mountainous. If you want to create an image of clumsiness, you can call into service the likes of lumbering and ponderous. Hulking, looming, and monstrous add a sense of threat to the impression of size, while mighty, towering, and colossal indicate that the size inspires awe.
It’s a matter of simple mathematics: The more words you know, the more choices you can make; the more choices you can make, the more accurate, vivid, and varied your speaking and writing will be.
Here are five methods you can use to enrich your vocabulary and, as a result, your ability to communicate:
1. Read! Read! Read!
When you were a child learning to speak, you seized each word as if it were a shiny toy. This is how you learned your language, and this is how you can expand your word stock. The best way to learn new words is through reading. Read for pleasure. Read for information. Read everything you can find on any subject that interests you. Read short stories. Read novels. Read non-fiction. Read newspapers. Read magazines. Soak up words like a sponge. The more words you read, the more words you will know. The more words you know, the better you will be able to communicate – and think.
2. Infer meaning from context.
There is another reason why reading is an effective way to cultivate vocabulary. A word that stands by itself offers fewer clues to its meaning than does a word that is related by sense to other words in a sentence or paragraph. These surrounding words make up the context (from Latin contextere, “to weave together”) in which the unknown word is used.
Detectives use clues to help them make deductions and solve cases. You can become a word detective and deduce the meaning of an unknown word by taking into account the words that surround it and the situation being talked or written about. Say you read the sentence “The advent of television eventually swept away the huge, grandly ornate movie palaces of the 1920s and left in their place small, utterly functional faceless theaters.” From context and the contrast to “utterly functional, faceless” you can infer that ornate means something like “elaborately decorated.”
3. Dig down to the roots.
Words and people have a lot in common. Like people, words are born, grow up, get married, have children, and even die. And, like people, words come in families -- big and beautiful families. A word family is a cluster of words that are related because they contain the same root; a root is a basic building block of language from which a variety of related words are formed. You can expand your vocabulary by digging down to the roots of an unfamiliar word and identifying the meanings of those roots.
For example, knowing that the roots scribe and script mean "write" will help you to deduce the meanings of a prolific clan of words, including ascribe, conscript, describe, inscribe, manuscript, nondescript, postscript, prescribe, proscribe, scribble, scripture, and transcribe. For another example, once you know that dic and dict are roots that mean "speak or say," you possess a key that unlocks the meanings of dozens of related words, including abdicate, benediction, contradict, dedicate, dictator, Dictaphone, dictionary, dictum, edict, indicate, indict, interdict, malediction, predict, syndicate, valedictory, verdict, vindicate, and vindictive.
Suppose that you encounter the word antipathy in speech or writing. From words like antiwar and antifreeze you can infer that the root anti- means “against,” and from words like sympathy and apathy that path is a root that means “feeling.” From such insights it is but a short leap to deduce that antipathy means “feeling against something.” This process of rooting out illustrates the old saying “It’s hard by the yard but a cinch by the inch.”Check out the Roots tab in the Open Dictionary of English! It will give you clues for roots and suffixes contained in a word.
4. Get the dictionary habit.
The great storyteller Mark Twain once wrote, “A dictionary is the most awe-inspiring of all books; it knows so much . . . . It has gone around the sun, and spied out everything and lit it up.” The practice of using the dictionary is essential in acquiring a mighty and versatile vocabulary. Keep an up-to-date dictionary by your side when you read. Whenever you run across a word that you are not sure of, look it up, a process that will probably take you no more than thirty seconds. Then record the word and its meaning on your private word list.We hope you'll fall in love with our new Open Dictionary of English... It is designed as a learner's dictionary, with lots of multi-media and usage examples. Once you look up a word, tag it for personalized tutoring, so you'll never have to look it up again!
5. Use your new words.
As soon as you have captured a new word in your mind, use it in conversation or writing. Try using at least one new word each day. Tell your parents how much you venerate them. Compliment your children on their altruism when they stoop to share the remote with you. Congratulate your business associates on their enthralling and edifying presentation. Explain to Tabby that she shouldn’t be so intractable about consuming her cat food.
And remind yourself not to procrastinate about acquiring and using new words. Make vocabulary growth a lifelong adventure. In the process, you will expand your thoughts and your feelings, your speaking, your reading, and your writing – everything that makes up you.Research shows that learners need to engage with a word approx. 8 times before it starts to feel familiar. Your brain needs a lot of practice to build lasting patterns and gain autoThis is why LearnThatWord reviews difficult words with you until you know them confidently. Using them in your everyday life will help this process greatly and speed up learning.