VOCABULARY AND THE RIGHT WORD

“The knowledge of words is the gateway to scholarship.”
--Wilson

“Words may be either servants or masters. If the former, they may guide us in the way of truth. If the latter, they intoxicate the brain and lead us into swamps of thought where there is no solid footing.”
--Bishop Hare.

“Words are like leaves; and where they most abound
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.”
--Pope.

Words are the instruments by which we fashion and embody our ideas. It is in words that the writer, as well as the speaker, clothes his thoughts. It is by means of words that he depicts his feelings. It is therefore essential to his success that he should try to enlarge his vocabulary so that he may have a fairly good stock of words at his disposal.

The only means of acquiring a good vocabulary is constant and careful reading. There is a kind of reading, hurried, casual, unthinking which leaves little or no impression on the mind. In this way one reads newspapers or trashy novels just for the sake of the matter or the story. If your wish to improve your vocabulary you must read good books, standard authors, writers of acknowledged standing and repute, and read with concentration and care, understanding and appreciating what you read. Such a course of reading has been suggested in the Introduction. This kind of reading will require the constant use of a good dictionary. The Concise Oxford Dictionary Fifth Edition is a reliable guide to the meaning, spelling and pronunciation of the English vocabulary. Look up every word that is strange to you or of the meaning of which you are not sure. Study the use of such words, how and in what context they are used and keep a special note-book for recording the information for future reference. The study of words should not be a dull and dry pursuit. Words should not be studied in isolation from their context. We should learn words as living units of thought and feeling in first-rate books, periodicals, journals and newspapers. It is only by this necessarily slow and laborious process that you can build up a good vocabulary. No one is born with a ready knowledge of the words in a language nor is there any royal road to it. Read wisely and with care. That is the only way. This sort of study would give you the power to discriminate and use words with due measure of precision and force. The more trouble you take the greater your reward.

The Right Word.

Robert Louis Stevenson has said, “The difficulty of Literature is not to write, but to write what you want.” A large part of the difficulty lies in choosing the right word. Often we have more than one word before us out of which we must choose the one word we want. The effectiveness of all writing depends upon the use of the right word in each place. English is a language capable of expressing the finest shades of thought and feeling and you are often in a difficulty to select just the right word to express your idea. Only careful reading and practice in writing will enable you to distinguish the nice shades of meaning and pick out just the right word your context demands. “Reading,” says Bacon, “maketh a full man writing an exact man.” And Gibbon tells us that “the choice and command of language is the fruit of exercise.” Shakespeare’s greatness as a dramatist and poet lies in his natural capacity for choosing the right, the live and the unforgettable word.