Increasing Your Verbal Dexterity in Three Easy Ways
Blogger: Michelle Ule
I’m filling in for Rachelle Gardner who is out of the office today because of the Colorado Springs fires. She and her family are fine.
Don’t you wish I could come up with a better description than the bland, antiseptic, flat, “fine?”
Obviously, I need to punch up my verbal dexterity.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Russian intelligencia often gathered together to savor poetry.
You can envision them drinking weak tea from a boiling samovar, huddled around a single candle wearing fur hats and coats with the chill Siberian wind blowing outside across the frozen steppes. Someone might pluck a balalaika, but most likely one of the party would stand and recite from memory poetry he or she had written.
While words and images rolled off the poet’s tongue, those listening would be mentally transported through the rich phrases and luxurious metaphors. When the meeting disbanded, they took those words and images away with them, to meditate over and relish. Their understanding of word usage expanded with their imaginations.
That’s one way to increase your vocabulary: spend time with highly literate word lovers.
As writers, words constitute our tools–they provide us with the flexibility to express our thoughts, tell our stories, and impress our neighbors.
My father read a great deal and during the years I had only small children in the house, my vocabulary often grew stunted: “Do you want Cheerios?”
When I knew my parents were coming to visit, I deliberately spoke in multi-syllabic words to those same young children: “We need to impress your pater familias with the extensive vocabulary you have mastered in their absence.”
(My Rhetoric-major sister-in-law and I once spent a delightful afternoon using all my niece’s vocabulary words in sentences while the fourth grader’s mouth hung open in surprise. “That’s how you use sublime in a sentence?”)
So a second way to improve your vocabulary is to deliberately use stronger, more vivid language.
I love to borrow books from my friend Julie because she underlines words she doesn’t know, looks them up, and then writes their definitions in the margin. I, however, impatiently read over words I don’t recognize, figure out their meanings from the sentence, and then add them to my working vocabulary as appropriate.
I remember the day my mother gave me permission to look for a book in the adult section of the library. “I think you can handle bigger words now,” she said. I tiptoed into those taller stacks and marvelled at all the choices. The books were fatter, the print smaller, and much wider words marched across the pages. I had to sound out the syllables, figure out the meanings, and my vocabulary increased.
(It also meant I could read words I may not necessarily know how to pronounce. For years, I thought the pronunciation for lingerie was lean-gur-ee, not lon-gher-ray.)
Reading “harder” books, of course, is the ultimate inroad into expanding your vocabulary.
The Gardner family has observed harrowing situations from their home ten miles from the fires. Ash and smoke fill the air and Mr. Gardner, a firefighter, is battling the blazes at the front lines. As Rachelle posted on Facebook, ”It’s impossible to think of anything else.”
But they really are fine.
We thank you for your prayers.
Meanwhile, back to the subject at hand, what methods do you use to increase your verbal dexterity? Or, what words would you use to describe that photo?