Vocabulary Building

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

Our reading vocabulary is probably larger than our speaking vocabulary. Our writing vocabulary might be larger than our speaking one, but probably is not as large as our reading one. The best way to improve our vocabulary is by reading. But what do we mean by improve vocabulary? More words? Better words? Big words? But what do we mean by better words? If two different words mean the same thing, what difference would it make which we use? Do we mean better words for certain situations – for we sometimes find ourselves at the proverbial loss for words, depending on who’s in on the conversation or the nature of the discussion? Maybe by improving our vocabulary we simply mean increasing the frequency of when we seem to be in possession of the right word at the right time. If that’s what we mean, we might need more words, not necessarily big words – but right words; where and how do we find and master more words that are useful, not too big, but just right?

The best way to build vocabulary is by reading with a dictionary close by (reading what we’ll save for a later post). However, building vocabulary by reading can be a slow process, and so we offer, not, hopefully, in the spirit of the age of instant gratification, but in the spirit of efficiency, and utility, the Funk and Lewis, “30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary.” We know – sounds like Charles Atlas or Jack LaLanne for the tongue. But this is an effective book, and offers the same formula Atlas and LaLanne offered: focus on exercise and diet. Numerous editions, with exercises, so you need a fresh copy.

Opening dialog above is from Lewis Carroll’s ”Through the Looking Glass” (originally published in 1871), Chapter VI, Humpty Dumpty.

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