In my younger days, vocabulary tests were my nemesis. I did not do well and I tried to avoid them. I was not a gifted conversationalist so I had no interest in improving my vocabulary. The more I realized the importance of learning, like many of you, the more I realized that learning more words and using them correctly was very important. I even believe it added to how I felt about myself. I am now a word junkie.
I can recall an incident when I was at the University of Northern Iowa and the head of the department of education made a reference to some “salient” comments a guest speaker had made. I had no idea what the word meant so I looked it up and I have been using the word ever since. This is how word power grows in each of us. We find a word we don’t know and we look it up and all of a sudden it becomes part of our vocabulary. Because we looked it up, we tend to remember it. Salient means “something of significance or importance."
I recall President Bush using the word "nexus." Again, I had no idea what it meant so I looked it up and it means to find a "connection” between things.
I enjoy improving my vocabulary. You seniors should be aware that the more you use your mind to learn new things like new words, you are delaying the onset of memory loss. It pays to keep that mind working overtime. By the way, one of the best vocabulary reviews is contained each month in "Reader’s Digest" called "Word Power."
If you learn five new words a month, by the end of the year you will have 60 new words to add to your vocabulary. So if someone uses words like “salient” or “nexus,” you now know what they are saying. Also, don’t forget to do the crossword puzzles in the Pioneer.
Famous French General Jean Baptiste Girard said, "By words we learn thoughts, and by thoughts we learn life.” Improving your vocabulary is really learning more about life. Whenever I hear someone on TV misuse a word, I will mention it to my wife. I did the same with my students. I don’t want to appear arrogant or pompous but words are meant to be used correctly; we learn more about life. That’s why we have English teachers and that’s why we have dictionaries and, I guess, that’s why we have vocabulary tests.
Here is a list of words that people often misuse. Oh, by the way, I still make mistakes and I still am corrected by Kathy and I still try to improve my vocabulary. Whenever someone makes an unforgettable speech, I try to make some salient comment about it. I also try to look for any nexus that will make the talk more meaningful especially when they refer to education.
Anxious/eager: “In my younger days I was always (anxious/eager) to take the vocabulary test.” When you use the word “anxious,” this means that you are nervous about something and you show anxiety. Too often when people use “anxious” what they really mean is that they are “eager” to do something. “I was not eager to take a vocabulary test, I was definitely anxious. I am eager, however, to share some tips on using words correctly."
Fewer/Less: “There are (fewer/less) students attending face-to-face classes this fall than last fall.” Whenever something is countable, use the word “fewer.” We have less trouble with wood ticks this year than last year. “Less” is used when you are referring to a quantity of something. “We have fewer students going to face-to-face classes this fall because we have less control over the virus.”
Further and Farther: “We are (further/farther) along in knowing more about COVID-19 than we were a year ago.” I have almost given up on the distinction between these two words because so many people misuse them including weather forecasters who often talk about distance. “Farther” is used when you can measure the distance. We are farther away from Winnipeg than Warroad. We use “further” when we cannot specifically measure something. “We are further along in knowing more about COVID-19."
One another/each other: “We need to remind (each other/one another) about the need to wear a mask.” The correct choice is “one another” because more than two people are involved. When we are referring to just two people, use “each other.” “My son and I used to throw the football to each other.”
Lay/Lie: “I am going to (lay/lie) the book down.” In the most simple terms, whenever you put something down, use the word “lay.” When you want to rest, you go “lie” on the bed. Use “Lay” to put something down, use “lie” when you want to recline. “We could say much more about these two words but let’s let sleeping dogs lie.”
Some quickies for you:
“I better get to town is incorrect.” You mean to say, “I had better get to town.” Or, “I had better leave.”
For “all intensive purposes” is incorrect. What you need to say is “For all intents and purposes.”
“Very unique” is incorrect. “Unique” already means one of a kind. “Very unique” is redundant.
Okay, take a sigh of relief, here is the last one. “I was suppose to finish earlier but I just couldn’t stop writing.” I should have written, “I was supposed to finish earlier.” “Suppose to” is incorrect. Don’t forget the “d” on “supposed to.”
Well, did you learn something new? I hope so. Now is the time to go lie down and rest your brain. If you have someone close by, you may want to quiz each other. Let me close by saying, I hope you are eager to learn more about words. There is no need to be anxious.
Riddle: Why did Gladys sprinkle sugar all over her pillow? (Answer: She wanted to have sweet dreams.) A good way to practice vocabulary is to lie back and visualize the words. I had better do the same.
Did you know that whenever a student drops out of school the district loses, on the average, about $12,000? How much would a district save if 100% of the students graduated?
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.