Just Look It Up


There was an article in Vox yesterday about the word “recuse,” which should’ve popped up in your FB feed several times over the last couple of days if you follow news providers. Did you look it up? I did. There’s no shame in checking the dictionary–what’s embarrassing is that there are people out there who feel the need to castigate others for not knowing words.

I made up a rule for Layla two exam seasons ago: If you don’t know what something means, you don’t deserve to write it down. I’ll even look up words that I think I already know, just to make sure I’m not missing out on an alternate meaning, or worse, misusing or mispronouncing the word. This is my dictionary of choice, for now, and they have a game app that is the best tool for learning and retaining vocabulary words that I’ve ever encountered–far superior to the flashcard system. I’ve been recommending it to everyone, including my daughter.

Of course, making the leap from learning a word to using it can be challenging… if you live in Singapore. I do find many words to be pretentious or impractical in the local context, but in one of my chat groups recently, someone was on the receiving end of a ribbing for using the word “foreboding,” and I remember thinking, surely we haven’t sunk that low?

But well, we each have to take responsibility for our own learning journeys. I’ll leave you with something I read a long time ago, from a geeky vocabulary book titled Verbal Advantage:

Because “enervate” sounds like “energize,” many people are tempted to think the words are synonymous when in fact they are antonyms. From my sample sentence, “After her exciting night on the town, she felt enervated,” if you don’t know precisely what “enervated” means there’s no way you can guess because the context is ambiguous…

The point is, as I’ve said several times before in this program, if you want to build a large and exact vocabulary, don’t rely only on context or on your intuition or on someone else’s definition of a word. When you have even a shred of doubt about a word, look it up. It won’t cost you anything to do that, and no one’s going to peer over your shoulder and say, “Hey, what’s the matter, stupid? You don’t know what ‘enervated’ means?” On the other hand, someone might say “Whoa, get a load of Verbal Advantage-head digging through the dictionary again.”

If something like that should ever happen, you can throw the book at the person–literally–but why ruin a good dictionary? Instead, you can rest easy in the knowledge that the insolent dullard already is eating your intellectual dust–for you, as a verbally advantaged person, know that reading, consulting a dictionary, and studying this book will invigorate, not enervate, your mind.


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