As I write this, my mind is bouncing from one thought to another. There are so many ideas and so many words but readers will tolerate a limited quantity of each at any one time. Today, let’s focus on the importance of using the “Right Word.”
In order to convey our thoughts perfectly leaving no question as to our intended meaning, we must choose the right word.
How do you learn to use the right word?
It’s not that hard. Start with what you already know. You have a lifetime of word gathering in you. The older you are, the more you have heard and the more you have used.
Young children have fewer words to draw from. They have been spoken to by adults who butcher the English language to make the words easier and more fun. They hear words like peep-pie, koochey-koo, bye-bye, da-da, ma-ma, outside, and the most dreaded “No!”
School age children have more words and college students know even more words. Adults and career professionals continue building their library. We all should be on the alert for words that we are not very familiar with and continue adding them to our inventory.
Get a good dictionary keep it close, and use it. I like a hardback that will stay open to the page I am looking at. You may find a good one at a flea market or used bookstore for only a few bucks. Although most smart phones allow you to look up a word on-line with instant access from anywhere, I still like to exercise my own alphabetical search capability and look directly at printed words. When to use a dictionary? When you read or hear someone speak a word that you are not sure of the meaning, jot it down, and look it up when you have time.
Make a list of words that you have recently learned and look for opportunities to use them. Here are a few from my list:
• Stodge-Dull & uninspiring
• Petulant-Childishly sulky or bad tempered, a petulant shake of the head
• Prig-Self righteous moralistic person who behaves as if superior to others
• Ineffable-Words cannot describe
• Efficacy-The ability to produce a desired or intended result
• Bethlehem-Place where Jesus was born. We are to be a Bethlehem, a place for Jesus to be a born into
• Censorious-Highly critical of others
• Obtuseness -Slow to understand
• Caprice-A sudden & unaccountable change in mood or behavior
• Lodestar-Guiding light or principal
• Quaver-Shake or tremble in speaking, “Tommy’s voice didn’t quaver, he just struggled to get all of the syllables out.”
• Crucible-A place or occasion of severe test (like crucify)
• Ascetic-Severe self-discipline
• Antipodes-The direct opposite of something
• Liminal-1. Of or relating to a sensory threshold, 2. Barely perceptible, 3. Of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition; in-between, transitional
• Hirple-Walk with a limp (lamely), to limp, hobble,
• Ineffable-Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words, not to be uttered
• Malevolent-Having a wish or showing a wish to do evil to others, malicious or spiteful
The following short story illustrates how we learn new words:
When our girls were young, Carolyn and I moved to Pensacola and bought a small house in Warrington, close to my work. We befriended the young newlywed couple who lived next door and after a couple of years they had their first child.
The husband managed a drug store, one of a chain that stayed open to 8:00 every night and he was required to be there most nights until closing.
Almost every afternoon, Sandy, the wife, came over and visited with Carolyn; partly to get some help and gain some wisdom about raising her son, but probably more important to her was to have some adult company. Our girls entertained Matthew and we three adults enjoyed visiting.
It was during one of these vespertine visits that Matthew spoke his first word. We were all speechless as we realized what he had just said. What did he say? Da-Da, Ma-Ma? No. No, the first word that Matthew spoke was the one he had heard repeated more than any other during his young life. “Wayne.”
American English is a beautiful language and we should seek to express its beauty at every opportunity.
More on selecting the right word will be continued in Lesson 8.
by Wayne Brady 1/14/2013