I cannot claim to have had a lifelong fascination with words. In the past I tended to look upon them as a collection of letters, albeit often a bewitching assemblage depending on the skill of the scribe, flitting across paper or a screen. That of course was before blogging. Once I started to write Just Add Attitude I became more conscious of the way I used words and acutely aware of how many words I simply didn’t know the meaning of and that there were, most likely, many thousands of words that I had never come across. So, I began a quest for a greater command of the language which has become a three-pronged tactic. I am aware that makes it sound like a very deliberate strategy but in truth it is just a way of trying to increase my vocabulary that has evolved in a very natural fashion.
The first thing I did was to dedicate a notebook to words. So when I come across a word I simply don’t understand I look it up and enter it in said notebook along with its dictionary definition. Sometimes the simple act of writing it down is enough to make an imprint of the word and its meaning on my memory. But as I flicked through the notebook earlier I realized that the correct usage of some of the words I had written into it many months ago had not seeped through to my brain; step forward, mahout, apotheosis and idiopathic; time I think for a little light revision.
Secondly, shortly after I started to blog I began to use the thesaurus tool in Word when I was typing. It usually provides a suitable substitute when I find my self constantly repeating a word (sometimes thought there is simply no adequate alternative, what for example could I have used as a synonym for the word ‘word’ in this post). I have recently invested in a real-life thesaurus; the extra thick (it is 6 cm wide) Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. I was interested to read in the editor’s preface that ‘the Thesaurus began life as a simple notebook of words and phrases that Peter Mark Roget collected for his own personal use, as an aid to expressing himself …’ So my notebook of words is following an honourable tradition.
Lastly I subscribed to A Word a Day a free service (see here) which delivers an email from Monday to Friday each week with a fresh word. For each word the email includes: an audio clip of the correct pronunciation, a definition, an explanation of the etymology and lastly an example of how the word is used in practice. A current favourite word that I learnt through A Word a Day is panjandrum; a panjandrum, just in case you don’t know, is an important or self-important person.
If the word genie were to grant me a wish I would ask to be a better writer in total command of a large cohort of words. Although I am ever mindful of Winston Churchill’s dictum – ‘short words are best and the old words when short are best of all’.