On Words


Many people do not appreciate the value of a wide vocabulary. Even if it was just a familiarity with words, I remember enjoying the spelling bees we had when I was still in school. I enjoyed reading dictionaries–and still do, just because there are so many interesting words out there. I blame a society that accepts mediocre words such as “stuff” and “things” to represent just about anything, or “nice” and “good” to describe anything acceptable. I blame teachers who accept “sort of” and “kinda” and “like” instead of insisting students find the exact word to describe things. I blame schools and teachers that do not encourage reading and responding to reading, do not require students to use wider vocabularies, do not show a passion for learning and using new and different words each day. I blame media for using words inappropriately, for turning nouns into verbs when there are appropriate and better verbs already existing, for allowing reporters to write or read copy that has not been thoroughly edited. At the rate words are dropping out of use, the complete and unabridged Oxford dictionary will get thinner in the years to come until it is thinner than even War and Peace. I remember whenever I gave the seminar “How to Write Specific Objectives” to teachers and education students, I would pass out a handout, the Forceful Four Hundred and Forty-Four, which was a list of verbs that teachers could use to describe actions they wanted students to perform. Rather than write every objective beginning with “to do…” or “to make…” or “to achieve…” (you get the idea), they could aim for very specific actions that had to be performed: listen, collect, accumulate, sort, revise, discuss, locate, and so on and so forth. The list was classified according to different levels of learning and skills (kinesthetic, verbal, creative, etc.) One of the exercises I give students in English classes is expanding their vocabulary by finding and using synonyms for common words. Too many times, writers use weaker words when there is a stronger, more exact option. It’s why I cringe every time I hear someone use the word “impacted” as a verb, when they really mean “affected.” As far as Merriam-Webster is concerned, “impacted” is an adjective describing something that’s difficult to remove because it’s tightly wedged or embedded, as in a tooth; it’s also an adjective that refers to a tax-exempt federal area. ‘Nuff said.

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