Strengthen Your Writing Skills By Building Your Vocabulary

“When ideas fail, words come in very handy.” – Goethe
Whatever you do, wherever you go, you will always be judged on your speech. How you articulate your thoughts indicates your intelligence, your disposition, and your breeding. Even in the U.S. – where informal diction and a colloquial prose style are practically de rigueur – the words you use make you.That’’s why I talk so much about talking. When it comes to power, money, and prestige, few things matter more.Mind you, I’’m not talking about pretentious palaver. There is nothing less impressive than someone who tries to hold up a heavy ego with “big” words and useless facts. But being able to use precisely the right word at the right time – or to mention an interesting fact that relates to another person’s interests – is an enormous advantage when it comes to making the right impression.

Today I want to suggest a little program that will give you more verbal power. It’’s something I’’ve been doing for a while, and it’s working out pretty well.

Five days a week, I learn two new things. One of those things is a vocabulary word. The other is something else – pretty much anything I don’’t know but find interesting.

This week, for example, I’’ve learned the meaning of “anodyne,” “pellucid,” “garrote,” “bloodless,” and “labile.” ”Anodyne” was brand-new for me. The others I kind of knew, but not well enough to use. I also learned something new this week about Galileo – that he recanted heliocentricism during the Inquisition and was banished to a Florentine farm for postulating it in the first place . . . something about small boats (Do you know the difference between a pulk and a yawl?) . . . the full story on Medusa (Pegasus was born out of her blood) . . . and that Katherine Ann Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider was written in limpid (i.e. pellucid) prose.

It was fun, and I feel smarter (not much, admittedly) because of it. Here’’s how I do it:

Sometime during my reading for the day, I usually bump into a word I don’’t really know. I jot it down and then later look it up and enter it into a little notebook I keep on my bedside table. After making that entry, I consult one of any number of books I have – references on history, art, curiosities, etc. – for something that sounds interesting. I enter that as well.

So, each day I make two entries in my notebook: one word to build my vocabulary and one piece of information to increase my general knowledge. I also do a quick review of the prior day’s entries. And then – most important – I promise myself to use what I learned that day in an upcoming memo or conversation.

Each time I use one of my entries, I make a check mark in my notebook. When I’’ve used it five times, I don’’t have to review it again. It’’s set for life.

To make sure it happens, I include this program as a highlighted item (important but not urgent) on my daily “to-do” list.

This may seem a bit much. (I’’m almost embarrassed to admit I do it.) But the results are immediate and significant. You’’ll see what I mean if you try it yourself.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]