Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Words And Ways

Continuing the wordy theme - one of the main motivations behind this blog's creation - that suggests a 'use it or lose it' approach to word use, I am reminded of the words of Evelyn Waugh: "One forgets words as one forgets names. One's vocabulary needs constant fertilisation or it will die."

I suppose by fertilisation Waugh meant the adding of words to it to make it grow - not just through the additions, which could easily resemble a meaningless and easily forgotten list, but through the process of learning words, and using them to prevent word amnesia.

Putting together strategies to expand, develop and maintain a vocabulary is like so many things much easier said than done.

Web site 'words of the day' can be pretty helpful, but I've noticed that so many of the words selected as 'wotds' aren't particularly interesting or sometimes seem pretty useless. That said they shouldn't be ignored as good ones do come up, like today's Dictionary.com offering 'equable,' defined by the site as: 'Equal and uniform; not varying. Not easily disturbed; not variable or changing (when) said of the feelings, temper, etc.

If I were use this forum to make a start on developing a strategy, I would continue here by saying that once a words have been excavated from the likes of the word of the day features, they would have to be used straight away. Not with meaningless examples, but as part of a genuine sentence albeit contrived as part of the writing at the time.

At this point I might make reference to being open to - if not new words - underused words, and that in order that I can ensure a learning posture I would have to adopt an equable and determined mind set to see and hear words before fixing them in my mind for easy and effective use by reinforcing memory and understanding by getting them down in live use immediately and then reguarly after that.

Wiktionary,the lexical companion to the open-content encyclopedia Wikepedia also offers a word of the day. I present the real possibilities of overloading here as the point behind the word of the day format can easily be made by reference to just one of them, though I'm bound to explore them all here so as to maximise any validity the system offers even if the article as written is sacrificed in so doing.

Today it has chosen 'contrite' and offers as its definition : 'sincerely penitent or feeling regret or sorrow, especially for one's own actions', which just about says it all really. I have too many reasons to feel contrition almost every day of my life, though I think this is more to do with my easily offended sense of fairness and justice and exaggerated concern for others' feelings than my being inherently bad.

Mirriam Webster has gone for 'mettlesome' today which describes someone or something as full of vigour and stamina : spirited. At a stroke MW illustrates all that is bad for me about word of the day. It has brought up a word I have no interest in and would never use. It's obscurity renders it useless and therefore contrary to what it is I'm trying to achieve. Wallowing in obscurity is the complete opposite of what is aimed at here. Using words like this might give one the intellectual high ground against a background of quizzical looks and metaphorical head scratching, but the user will end up disadvantaged and isolated through the use of such arcane language. Mettlesome (bit like troublesome and bothersome I suppose as in 'you're trouble or you bring bother - but in this case you have bottle) is one to know but not one to use.

Wordsmith comes back with a good one today, and typically it's a word I thought I knew but obviously didn't protean, displaying considerable variety or diversity or readily assuming different shapes or forms. This first definition seems useful, and is probably the root of my misunderstanding thinking that it meant clever and wise. This is probably due to having heard people like Peter Ustinov, Stephen Fry and Orson Welles described thus. Clever as these chaps are, or were, it is to the variety of their talents that we pay homage.

Another technique I might consider could be called intellectual striving. This is describes a method of word pursuit which purposely turns a piece of writing into a huge effort though the seeking out of new, better, more sophisticated words to describe what might otherwise be a mundane piece of work. And I shall examine intellectual striving tomorrow.

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