“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”—Mark Twain
What if I told you that, starting at this moment, you could put yourself on the road to stronger relationships, sharper intelligence, a better job, and boosted self esteem with taking on one simple intellectual pursuit? You’d probably think I was trying to sell you some overpriced, seven disk self help DVD set and two week training program. Nope, the secret is much simpler and much cheaper than that. You can begin incredible self transformation with this simple hobby: expanding your day to day vocabulary.
Don’t fret, I’m not here to transport you back to the grade school grammar quizzes, flubbing answers to pass the time until recess. Put aside those tedious memories for a moment. Vocabulary is the foundation of of all written and verbal communication, the vessels that transport information and ideas from the mind of one person to another. What some would deride as fancy pants big words are actually more specific iterations of a more generic word. This makes communicating a thought more specific and dynamic. ‘Mad’ instantly conveys a specific feeling or idea, but it fails to specify which type of anger a person may feel. It could be extreme jealousy, betrayal, annoyance, hurt, or disappointment. Then, we can take that a step further, and express covetousness, treachery, exacerbation, aggrievement, or disenchantment. Think this sounds like a lexical circlejerk? There are more benefits than you might imagine.
A few practical benefits become immediately apparent. With a wider array of words to utilize in your verbal quiver, misunderstandings in communication can be easily avoided. One might imagine that ‘fancier’ words would make communication more complex or difficult, but quite the opposite actually. With an expanded vocabulary, you can convey precisely what you want to say, with no vagueness derailing the procedure.
Of course, that benefit leads right into another. Use of a more elaborate and precise vocabulary improves others’ perception of you. Dropping a few fifty-cent words in conversation can make you appear eloquent and educated. Even if one is the smartest person in the room, they’ll struggle for recognition of their intelligence if they do not utilize concise and clever communication. Likewise, even an idiot can appear intelligent for a short time if he uses the right words.
What follows an articulate, seemingly educated public perception? That’s right, lucrative employment. Higher scores on vocabulary tests have been directly linked in a landmark study by psychometrician Johnson O’Connor to higher socioeconomic status, or in layman’s terms, better jobs and more money. His research, which spanned over twenty years, found that vocabulary proficiency was the single most effective predictor of occupational success. You may be wondering the exact correlation here. To nail an interview or impress the boss, a distinct advantage is, you guessed it, superior communication and critical thinking skills. That’s right, some quality time with the thesaurus can be the key to finally securing that promotion at work.
Now to shift inwards once more, perhaps the most important benefit of an enhanced personal lexicon is the self actualization it can help achieve. Critical thinking is boosted when one has a wider array of words and concepts to utilize, an expanded array of tools for your tool kit of the mind. Dilemmas and conundrums lose their power when approached with a wider variety of concepts and theorizations. After all, I’ve never heard anyone say that feeling intelligent was a downer.
Put all of that together: Effective communication, improved social standing, lucrative job prospects, and sharper modes of thinking. That cadre of materials forges together to boost the most important stat on our personal character sheets: Self esteem. These benefits strengthen you from outside and from within, and while employment and social rapport comes and goes, savvy articulation and powerful critical thought stay with you, a forge to use to build it all up again.
Suggestions on how to improve vocabulary could be a post unto itself, and that may come along in the future, but here are a few simple tips to start you down the road to improvement: read a newspaper or book (not a trashy tabloid, though, those things make you less intelligent), listen to educational podcasts, watch informative documentaries, or spend more time writing. When you encounter a new or unfamiliar word, write it down, then research it. Try to use the word in conversation or writing as soon as possible, and watch as your daily speech is gradually peppered with greater diversity of new words.
Think of expanding your vocabulary like a Pokémon game: You can attempt to bulldoze Kanto with just the starter you picked, but eventually, you’ll come across some foe that your beefed-up Charizard cannot handle. If you took the time to invest in other types of monsters along the way though, you can instead deploy a diverse legion of types and abilities to handle any foe the game throws at you. The Gym Leaders are all of life’s intellectual challenges and the Pokémon are the words to train and master. Gotta catch ’em all.