Why learn these Words?
One Word Each Day is the derivation of a system I devised to increase my language comprehension.
As an undergraduate philosophy major, I began reading from a challenging array of authors. Before then, I considered myself quite capable of arresting the theme and intent of any literary work. General word comprehension had never been an issue. Thus, it came as a great shock to my psyche to find in text after text I could not fully comprehend what was being presented.
In fact, I found myself having to read many chapters two or three times as a result of my inability to truly grasp the ideas they communicated. It wasn’t the depth of the thought that held me back, but rather, the precision of the laguage that the authors used. I simply did not have the vocabulary I needed.
It started with an unknown word here and there. But the scripts soon devolved into a deluge of technical terminology with such complex use that I found myself unable to keep up. Stubborn as I am, I refused to acknowledge the mounting evidence of this deficiency in my education. I coped instead, by employing that old tactic we were all taught in elementary school: guessing at a term’s meaning by way of “context clues.” This method is entirely effective when one is choosing between definitions on, say, a multiple-choice exam.
Without such a choice, however, the strategy of using context clues is actually inimical to true understanding. Guess work is approximate at best, and the only thing worse than having no knowledge is having false knowledge.
Definition vs. Meaning
I also began to realize that even if I did resort to a dictionary, the result rarely helped foster true understanding of what the author was implying. Word meanings are often layered and complex. The definitions presented by dictionaries do not address the word’s past usage, etymological history, metaphorical and symbolic value: its meta-definition. For Example: imagine you hear this exclamation:
“The boss demanded I come in on Saturday, again! Why does he have to be such a Nazi?”
If you were somehow unaware of the term “Nazi,” you might Google it and see the following:
Nazi; plural noun: Nazis
1. a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.a member of an organization with ideology similar to Nazism.
derogatory a person who holds and acts brutally in accordance with extreme racist or authoritarian views.adjectiveadjective
: Nazi1. of or concerning the Nazis or Nazism.
While it is not an entirely false rendering of the term, the above definition does not and cannot connote all the different ideas and subtle understandings that accompany the word “Nazi.” The term, at this point in human history, carries so much implied meaning that no simple definition will do it justice. It requires a historical analysis more becoming of encyclopedia than dictionary. All words in the English language work this way. They all have layers upon layers of meaning, and how much you understand, depends upon how many different layers you are aware of.
Putting my ego aside for a bit, I admitted to myself that I I must become more acquainted with not only the words I didn’t know, but many of those that I thought I already knew.
Thus I devised a program to increase my word knowledge.
During each reading session, I would meticulously underline any word whose definition I did not feel extremely comfortable with. Afterward, I wrote each word in a small journal then proceeded to study its definition. I checked several dictionaries and encyclospedias, fascinated at the slight differences they betrayed. Etymology, the study of word origins, I found to be the most helpful tool in examining words. Many words in our language have strayed greatly from their initial function; the only way to find their root meaning is to trace it back to the beginning.
I looked for the words’ usage in actual writing as well. This was an important step; unlike example sentences presented in dictionaries, actual literature makes use of complex structure and implied meanings, which is what I was after all along. Within a semester, my vocabulary skills had improved immensely and I was able to read concepts in the texts that I would have been completely unaware of otherwise.
One Word Each Day is the continuation, of the work I began in College. I choose the word from my own reading and will often include a excerpt for context. In most cases the words’ definition is completely unknown to me, or its meaning is not obvious. On occasion I will include common terms’ whose use is too-often miscontrued by the lay-reader.
Please know that I am not a professional in the language arts, nor do I claim to be an expert. If you can provide further enlightenment on any particular word I present in One Word Each Day, I humbly request you do so via the comments section or by sending me an email at: DefinitionandMeaning@gmail.com
I hope you enjoy learning along with me.