Sunday, November 25, 2007

BIGGER isn't necessarily Better

When people say that someone has a "good vocabulary," they usually mean that he or she uses a lot of big, important-sounding words like jactitation, demulcent and saxicolous. But a vocabulary consisting of words like these isn't ncessarily a "good" vocabulary at all.


Because almost no one knows what jactitation, demulcent, and saxicolous mean. If you used these words in conversation, the chances are that no one listening to you would know what you are talking about. Big, difficult words have very important uses, but improving a vocabulary involves much more than merely decorating your speech or your writing with a few polysyllabic zingers.

The goal of communication is clarity. We write and speak in order to make ourselves understood. A good vocabulary is one that makes communication easy and efficient. A mark of an effective speaker or writer is an ability to express complex ideas in relatively simple words.Most discourse among educated people is built on words that are fairly ordinary--words you've heard before, even if you aren't exactly certain what they mean. The best way to improve your vocabulary isn't to comb the dictionary for a handful of tongue-twisters to throw at unsuspecting strangers. Instead, you need to hone your understanding of words that turn up again and again in intelligent communication. A person who had a clear understanding of every word in an issue of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or The Atlantic would have a very powerful vocabulary--a vocabulary sophisticated enough to impress almost any teacher, admissions officer, colleague or employer.

Adam Robinson
The Princeton Review (C) 2001
Word Smart: Building An Educated Vocabulary
Revosed and updated, 3rd Edition
Random House, Inc New York

Vocab Backstab

The words you use say a lot about you. Some words say that you are smart, persuasive, and informed. Others say that you don't know what you are talking about. Knowing which words to use and understanding how to use them are keys to getting the most out of your mind.

People often say, in frustration, "I know what I mean but I don't know how to say it." They are almost always incorrect. If they don't know how to say it, they usually don't know what they mean. We use words not just to speak but also to think. If the right words aren't there, the right ideas can't get through.

Your vocabulary is the foundation of your ability to think and your ability to share your thoughts with other people. When you improve your vocabulary, yuou improve your ability to bring your intelligence to bear on the world around you.