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Lesson, The Second: The What, Why, and How of Vocabulary

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In the last lecture we covered the basics of spaced repetition and self-learning, and in this lesson I hope to move on to the very sirius subject of vocabulary and how to tackle it.

First of all, vocabulary is useful in a pure and economic sense. Research seems to show that success and money in our society go hand in hand with great vocabularies. Actually, research suggests that vocabulary is the number one predictor of occupational achievement.

Of course, repeatedly throwing around vocabulary words that nobody in your audience knows is just annoying and distasteful. If you’re pitching to a niche audience, using words the layman doesn’t understand could make sense and even be appreciated, but even in those cases people can sense when you’re trying to use a 10 dollar word more to seem smart and less because it furthers understanding. On the other hand, whatever kind of audience you’re pitching to, occasionally throwing in an appropriately used rareish vocabulary word could be a good move. Learning new words at a reasonable pace might be an interesting, interactive little subplot for even a very broad audience, especially if the words are humorous or culturally useful in some way. Anyway, words are useful tools even in the absence of an audience or interlocutor.

Individual words serve to organize and represent some kind of phenomenon of some degree of complexity. A sentence is made up of a usefully organized series of these individual words, and that also serves to organize some sort of complexity and chaos brought up by the individual words. In short, words tell stories…so do sentences, even if it is a small one. All stories of any length are simply a long string of individual sentences…. shorter stories strung end to end like the beads on an abacus.

Take a good gander at a dictionary, well any good dictionary I should say (you’re looking for 8/10 or better), and what you’ve got is a long, alphabetical list of short stories commonly told in a language. These are useful, fundamental building blocks for larger stories that you can tell. Because words are valuable not just intrinsically but as tools for thought, it makes a large vocabulary useful even for writers who are not trying to impress audiences by using big words.

You need to make love to your dictionary, but not like a cheesy pick-up-artist who just calls every other weekend when he isn’t busy with bigger, better thangs. You need to take your dictionary home every day and marry her and have kids by reproducing with your dictionary through this fancy new midwife service called an SRS and bare with me here..

There are several kinds of vocabulary flashcard babies that you can have by way of your SRS. One important type of flashcard baby is where you start with the definition on the front side of the card and produce the word on the backside of the card. Here’s an example for the word ‘belabor’:

Front: A verb meaning to argue or elaborate (a subject) in sexcessive detail.

Back: belabor

Of course the actual definition of the word doesn’t really have an “s” at the beginning of the word “excessive”, but that was actually a real keystroke error that I made while I was creating that flashcard some time ago. Just a little evidence of the fun you can have with flashcard-making-as-a-hobby (FMAAH; and no, you probably won’t ever see this acronym again).

In good example sentences, there is a certain quality about the rest of the sentence that sort of hints at the redacted vocabulary word, and this is a quality to look for in potential mates… I mean example sentences.

An interesting quirk of making flashcards of example sentences for vocabulary words is that it can become quite a political endeavor. With lots of widely used words this is hardly the case. However, sometimes…words, especially newer ones, are limited enough in use and scope as to make which example sentence or sentences you pick an important decision.

Just remember that a new word is only as useful as the idea behind it. Learning new words is kind of like gambling or investing; statistically, you’re going to make some bad bets, but you’re going to win eventually if you keep playing.

I took my work, cut it down into this bite-sized, abridged version, and have decided to make it freely available in various places o’er the Interwebz. Permit me to be blunt: I worked really hard on the full version, and it will soon be is available in sundry formats in various places including Amazon, Smashwords, and Udemy. Especially since a lot of good stuff got cut out in order to make this abridged version possible, I urge you to give the full version your serious consideration.

Tally ho!

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM


2 responses »

  1. Did you really mean “_bare_ with me” because I’m not that kind of gal… 😉


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