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Enlarging Your Vocabulary

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Collecting words for your vocabulary can become a fascinating as well as a profitable pastime, once you become imbued with the desire to learn new words. Whenever you listen to a good speaker or read a good book or article, watch for new words that might be added to your vocabulary. Make a note of the words that interest you, learn their meanings, and then use them whenever they are appropriate.

If you are willing to work constructively on your vocabulary, there are several good exercises that you can profitably employ in your leisure moments. One of the best is finding synonyms. Select a paragraph from a newspaper, book, or periodical, and underscore all the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Write as many synonyms (words having the same or similar meaning) as you can think of for each of the words underscored. Then add to your synonyms any others you can find in your dictionary or thesaurus. Rewrite the paragraph, replacing every underscored word with a synonym that expresses the same idea. You will discover that each word has its own shade of meaning, and that selecting the exact word to express an idea is dependent upon a thorough understanding of all the meanings of a word.

Another profitable exercise is listing all the antonyms (words of opposite meaning) for each word underscored, and rewriting the paragraph so that it will have the opposite meaning from that intended by the author.

In the following list of words one synonym and one antonym for each word is enclosed in the parentheses. Select the proper synonym and antonym for each word and re-write the list using the headings: Word, Synonym, Antonym.

1. loquacious (laconic, prevalent, garrulous, scarce)

2. indigent (poor, irate, affluent, peaceful)

3. simulated (real, wavy, imitated, plain)

4. diffident (courageous, opposed, favoring, timid)

5. insipid (unpalatable, drunken, savory, sober)

Now compare your selections with the correct arrangement:


1. loquacious garrulous laconic

2. indigent poor affluent

3. simulated imitated real

4. diffident timid courageous

5. insipid unpalatable savory

Choosing the Elective Word

What is an effective word? It is a word that expresses your idea exactly and that has not been overworked until it has lost its power to impress, a word that is suited to both the understanding of your listener and to the occasion.

Careless speakers fall into the habit of using general words that convey no definite mental picture instead of selecting words that express an idea exactly. Such speakers, for example, use only the word get, though they mean acquire, receive, achieve, catch, induce, borrow, or buy. They use a colorless verb like walk, when they might use a word that combines the idea of walking with the manner of walking, as, stalking, strolling, strutting, staggering, waddling, wading, wavering, prowling. They call everything swell, cute, stupendous, or whatever is their pet adjective at the moment.

Worn-out words and phrases betray mental poverty just as frayed and torn clothes indicate financial poverty. Among these phrases are overworked slang expressions and quotations that have become hackneyed through overuse.

Suiting your vocabulary to the understanding of your listener is obviously necessary if he is to understand you. Use technical terms, for example, only when you are talking to someone familiar with the technical vocabulary of a particular subject. Use foreign terms and phrases sparingly and only when you know your listener is acquainted with them. Use simple words in speaking to children and per-sons of limited education.

If you want your words to move quickly, use short, simple words; if you wish to be forceful, use short, strong words; if you want to convey an idea of elegance, use words of distinction, with possibly a literary flavor; if you wish to convey the idea of power and deliberation, use longer, more impressive words. The ability to choose the most effective word depends upon a fine sense of discrimination as well as an exact knowledge of many words.


WILLIAM N. BRIGANCE, Your Everyday Speech, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York

JOHN M. CLAPP and EDWIN A. KANE, How to Talk, Chapters XXIII and XXIV, The Ronald Press Company, New York

HARRISON M. KARR, Your Speaking Voice, Griffin-Patterson Publishing Co., Glendale, California

LEW SARETT and W. T. FOSTER, Basic Principles of Speech, Chapters VIII-XI, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston


DIRECTIONS FOR SCORING: Each question counts 5; grade yourself from 5 to 0, according to your judgment and then have someone else grade you.

1. Do you breathe properly?

2. Are you able to read aloud for some time without becoming hoarse?

3. Is your voice pitched properly—that is, neither so high as to be shrill nor so low as to be gruff?

4. Does your voice have sufficient resonance to be pleasing?

5. Does your voice have force and carrying power, without being loud?

6. Does your voice show animation and enthusiasm?

7. Do you habitually pronounce correctly the words on Pages 38-40? (Deduct 1/6 for every word that you mispronounce.)

8. Can you give the principal parts of all the verbs listed on Pages 41-42? (Test yourself by covering the second and third columns. Deduct 1/7 for every incorrect form.)

9. Is your speech free from all the faults listed on Pages 48-49? (Deduct 1/5 for any incorrect expression that you use.)

10. Is your speech free from profanity, triteness, and vagueness?

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