Learn it, use it, own it

My parents home schooled my brothers and me—on top of the six-plus hours a day we spent in school. 

For example, they believed we should constantly expand our vocabularies, and my father created a process for making this happen. Periodically he went though the dictionary, picked out words he thought we should know, wrote out the words and their definitions on index cards, bundled them and placed them for our use in the, ahem, restroom. Don’t just sit there; learn something.

Those old index cards are still in the family, but not in my house. I still like to learn new vocabulary words, but I prefer a softer chair. As an aside, I also enjoy teaching new words to kids. Want to get a teenage boy to learn a new word? Ask him if he likes to masticate at the dinner table.

A few years ago, a friend gave me The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate by Eugene Ehrlich. You’d like this book because it is written as a direct affront to something you and I have complained about. It’s what Ehrlich calls “the poisonous effects wrought by the forces of linguistic darkness—aided by permissive lexicographers who blithely acquiesce to the depredations of unrestrained language butchers.”

What he’s referring to essentially is what happens when is a word is misused so often it ends up being added as a new definition to an existing dictionary entry. Ehrlich explains that the so-called “functionally illiterate” take the new use as acceptable, giving them license to say, “Well, it’s in the dictionary, so it’s OK to use.” He also notes how this happens with mispronunciation as well.

If you too are frustrated with what is happening, then The Highly Selective Dictionary is for you. Unlike most dictionaries, this contains only the most interesting words and concise definitions. I recently pulled my copy off the shelf and thumbed through it, noticing that I had highlighted passages and words I liked, for what purpose I couldn’t tell you.

As we set upon Back to School season, I thought it might be fun—or at least instructive—for us all to learn some new words. Who’s in? How about we devote the coming week to becoming extraordinarily literate? You might not find this as fun as last week’s Name that Weed contest but, hey, I try to offer a little something for everyone.

Each day for the next few days, I will give you a word from this Dictionary. If you use it in a sentence three times, it belongs to you. Isn’t that a momily?

Rest assured, no index cards will be harmed.

Please take tomorrow off with me and rest up for the fun. Also feel free to send in your favorites.

7 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Reading

7 responses to “Learn it, use it, own it

  1. Polly

    Years ago, in my favorite Beacon Street bookstore, a friend bought me The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler.

    And years ago a journalist couple taught me about the index card trick. They told me to always keep index cards handy when I am reading, and to write down a new word when I come across it. Then later, look up the word and write the definition down too. Study them, in your spare time, and again, the momily about 3x and it is yours. I was just geeky enough to do it : )

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