Develop your vocabulary

vocabulary5.001Men imagine that their minds have the command of language, but it often happens that language bears rule over their minds. Francis Bacon

  • According to the Global Language Monitor, as of January 2014, there are about 1,025,109 words in the English language.
  • According to the Collins Corpus, an analytical database of English, around 90% of English speech and writing is made up of approximately 3,500 words. [Shakespeare used 30,000 words in his plays, which is more than the Wall Street Journal used in a 10-year period.]
  • Most people’s routine vocabulary is only a few hundred words.

So we have over a million words to choose from, but the average person only uses a few hundred. We need to correct that deficit. Here’s why.

A good vocabulary helps you communicate.

A person who has a limited vocabulary will have difficulty influencing others with his or her ideas. It’s difficult to sell people on your worldview if you can’t compellingly articulate it.

A good vocabulary helps you think better.

Our vocabulary not only helps us express our thoughts, it creates our thoughts.

When you think, you only have at your disposal, the words you know. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular term, you’re probably unaware of the concepts and meaning it represents.

For instance, do you know the definition of these two words—correlation, causation—and how they relate to each other? If you don’t, you probably don’t understand the concepts they represent. [I talk about these two words in the post – Don’t be superstitious]

Language both expresses our thoughts and creates our thoughts.

Have a plan for expanding your vocabulary

At a minimum, whenever you read a word and you’re unsure of its meaning, look it up. Recently, I read these three words, didn’t understand their meaning, and immediately looked them up: misanthrope, tonic, and simpatico.

  • Try to visualize or personify the word: I have a neighbor who is a misanthrope.
  • Try to use the word in conversation: I said to a friend, “Our relationship is a real tonic to me.”
  • Identify synonyms for the word: simpatico—compatible

These Web sites will send you a word a day along with a definition and proper usage.

  • – opt for the daily newsletter and you’ll get a word a day delivered to your inbox
  • – provides example sentences and audio pronunciation
  • – avoids difficult words and focuses on words you might use in daily conversations
  • – offers more challenging words

Be a lover of words.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

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12 Replies to “Develop your vocabulary”

  1. You and I have a common friend, Don, who describes himself as a “word vulture.” I like that. And I appreciate this post! I’ve found that reading widely greatly expands my vocabulary. But as a writer, I also have to remember that my readers may not share my passion for new words. If I venture too far outside the words readers know, I may impress them (at best) or even lose them (at worst). I try to use new words as seasoning to the meals I serve of mostly meat and potatoes.

    1. You’re right, Wayne. We have to speak the same “language” as the reader. Sometimes I try to choose words which most people know but seldom use (intuitive) and sometimes one that is more unfamiliar (truncate) and seldom one that is oblique (scintillating) 🙂 Thanks for writing, I always value your input.

  2. Excellent article. Words and communication. I remember reading that Mark Twain said that the difference between using any word and the right word was the difference between a lightning bug and a bolt of lightning.

    1. Thanks, Jim, for sharing your thoughts. I love the Mark Twain quote; I had not heard it. I hope you are doing well. I have fond memories of times we have visited and been in conferences together. Don

  3. I enjoyed this article, it is great to know there are places to go other than the dictionary for definitions and usage of words.
    I like listening to Bill O’ Reilly on FOX news every evening for his word of the day
    Although he drives me crazy at other times being overbearing with his guest.

    1. Barb, thanks for writing. I like – Word Think – it sends you one word a day; they are usable words, not obtuse ones. Take care, Don

    1. Hedi, you are one of the most “fully alive” senior adults I know. I admire you in so many ways. Don

  4. I always appreciate that there is a plan involved and tools to help one make it happen. Thanks:))

    1. Thanks, Tristan, for sharing your thoughts. I, too, appreciate having a plan to make things happen. Don

  5. I took the time to read, and found it enjoyable an entertaining.
    I know that I had a limited vocabulary, and would like to expand my Horizons.
    Thank you

    1. Catherine, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I once heard, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is today.” Start today, developing your vocabulary and you’ll be surprised at how fast it will make a difference. Don

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