Words are free. If you see an interesting word, and you learn how to use it, you can add it to your Bank of Vocabulary account, without any fees or interest rates!
What are your favorite words? You can’t hoard endless amounts of your favorite snack or your favorite brand of clothing, but you can have as many of your favorite words as you want – for FREE!
I will never forget the college professor who told me that I could make any word I use my own. Building your vocabulary is a simple yet very powerful practice, once you start taking advantage of it.
You can even invent words! If you need to express something, but can’t think of the appropriate word, make a new word! If you use it frequently enough, and can convince other people to use it, it will become part of language, just like any other word. Dictionary editors frequently add words to subsequent editions. According to Merriam-Webster:
To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning.
How do words enhance your life? Using a rich and varied vocabulary will make you seem more intelligent and articulate. If you want to belong to a certain group, you can use the words the group members use when they are together.
The words you use help shape your identity. But how will you know which words you want to use if you don’t know many words? How do you find new words? How do you discover the riches that await you?
Some people cruise the dictionary, others subscribe to word-of-the-day e-mails. Personally, I think the best way to expand your vocabulary is to read challenging works: books, magazine articles, newspaper articles, essays, etc. Make note of the words you like, even if you’ve seen them before or know what they mean. Good writers use words in challenging, surprising contexts. Reading something in context is the best way to learn.
For example, this morning, on the bus, I was reading “Complicit with Everything”, a poem by Tony Hoagland. Before reading this poem, I was sort of familiar with the word complicit, but I probably wouldn’t have used it in everyday speech. In the poem, a vine growing up the side of a shingled house is described as “complicit with nothing but everything”.
I had never seen the word “complicit” used in such a context. When I had access to a computer, I looked it up on Dictionary.com: “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, esp. with others; having complicity.” Could you imagine a vine described as something involved in an illegal act? Poets make words fun and interesting. I will certainly remember “complicit” in the future.
Don’t skip over unfamiliar words. Make a point to notice how the writer uses the word in context. For the rest of the day, find reasons to use that word in conversation. I promise you that you won’t sound like a jerk if you occasionally use a “big” word. In fact, you might inspire someone else to use that word too. And you’ll be one word richer than you were before.
(Photo by Bethany L. King)