Even a Writer Needs to Learn Vocabulary

I was recently introduced to a vocabulary building website, vocabulary.com.  It tests your vocabulary and introduces new words to you, which you then have to try to correctly answer questions about.  It’s a kind of learning tool that uses spaced repetition to help you recall what you’ve studied, and it regularly goes back to learned words and retests you.

Why would I, a person with a good vocabulary and just happens to be an English teacher, work on my vocabulary?  Well, it’s not a bad idea to improve myself.  I frequently come across words I haven’t seen before in novels, and it makes me think about my own writing. I want to keep my vocabulary up.

What are some other ways to acquire new words for use in writing?  What do you do?

12 thoughts on “Even a Writer Needs to Learn Vocabulary”

  1. My favorite way of expanding my vocabulary has always been reading, but I also work as a freelance translator, which forces me to regularly look up words (even ones I think I know) so that I can be sure that I’m translating it correctly. That has probably expanded my vocabulary a whole lot, since I’m exposed to so many different subjects that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to read about on my own time.

    I also get emails from dictionary.com with their word of the day, but since I don’t repeat them, I tend to forget them. However, I do have a stash of old emails with words I’ve particularly liked. The intention is to base short stories or flash fiction around the words, but I’ve yet to follow up on that idea.

    1. I also had an idea about trying flash fiction based on words I’ve discovered. Useful words, of course. I run a flash fiction “contest” on here, though it’s currently in a bit of a hiatus. I may think about doing that kind of thing for it.

  2. Honestly, I sometimes try NOT to acquire new words for my writing; I’m tired of being told that I’m a bad writer because I “use too many big words” (’cause NO ONE uses the word “ubiquitous” in ordinary conversation such as “Oh, look, the ubiquitous Christopher Heyerdahl is on this show, too.”). apparently, if it isn’t part of the average person’s (not average READER’s) everyday vocabulary, writers shouldn’t use it.

    Hmm. I seem to be having an mild “I hate humans” day.

    I like dictionaries. I like tracing the way various words are interrelated, and where they come from. (I once used the word “nocent” in a poem. Yes, it’s a real word. Means “capable of doing harm,” which is NOT what “guilty,” the current so-called opposite of “innocent,” actually means. English has a lot of synonyms, but very few true homonyms.)

    Mostly, though, I acquire new words through reading. Words acquired that way feel more natural because I’m seeing them used in context, not just defined.

    1. Context is important for understanding. It doesn’t always work that way, though. I remember reading through Harry Potter, and finding a lot of words I didn’t know. I’m not British, so a lot of slang went over my head.

      The problem with using big words is that it seems everyone does it. If that makes someone a bad writer, then they’re all bad.

  3. The only vocabulary building I do, is when I study vocab. with my tween! On occasion, there are words I am unfamiliar with or haven’t used in ages. I find it fun, my tween not so much!

  4. I have the dictionary.com app on my phone, and everyday at 0800 it send me the word of the day. Sometimes, that word is practical enough to add to my vernacular. Mostly, though, they’re off-the-wall words.

    The last one I learned, which may one day get used, was inanition (exhaustion caused by malnourishment). I was quite taken with it.

    1. I have the app, too, but I don’t have it set up to give me the word of the day. I have too many notifications as it is.

      Inanition seems useful, although Windows doesn’t recognise it.

  5. I love to read other readers. I too stumble across a new word in a book, and immediately go to my dictionary. That’s another thing, I love the dictionary and always have since I was a child. My best friend still clowns me about that. “What kind of child reads the dictionary like a novel.” I do, that’s who. LOL..
    And I am certainly checking out this site you referenced here. Thanks for the tip.

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