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Vocabulary – importance?

By English Tutor, Africa:

Vocabulary is all the words that a person knows, all the words in the dictionary. Synonyms of vocabulary include words, dictionary, language etc.

When I lived at a commune, a house mate would always say to me, “Khuthie, I really want to learn to speak like you”. It was flattering, to hear that, but I did bully the whole house when someone used a very incorrect term for something they were trying to say. Let's take bully for example as a word that is frequently used in everyday speech. How many synonyms (synonyms are different words that mean the same thing) can you come up with, without right clicking to check on your computer? Strictly off the top of your head. Here are some you may have come up with browbeater, coercer, intimidator, terrorize, oppressor, push around, tyrannize, domineer, tormentor, harass, frighten etc. Each has a degree of intensity more or less than the other. When you are speaking about a political figure like Hitler, which words have you heard him being referred to as? CNN, BBC or the SABC news would not call him a bully on serious primetime news. They would use other words that carry more weight or express better the extent to which his actions were deemed.

Bully or bullying is often referred to lighter but serious matters of school play grounds. Having a wider vocabulary helps you express to the best degree what your intended meaning is, when you know more words that mean the same thing, you have a broader vocabulary than someone who only knows a few. You are better able to express yourself in conversation and communication, written and spoken.

A word like sexist is thrown around a lot in conversation. What synonyms can you come up with? Some very common ones are chauvinist and bigot. Chauvinist is one that is commonly used on television shows that are intentional about what they are trying to express or teach. Very few people use the word chauvinist in their speech.

Misogyny is a word that is used to refer to an extreme sexist, racist or extremist. Its synonym is however, much simpler and carries more hate. In its simplest definition, a misogynist is a hater of women.

A sexist or chauvinist is a superior and complex term, and it can be applied to people who have an irrational belief that their own colour, race, country or sex is superior to any other. I have no political agenda by choosing to use these particular words, I am trying to make a point and express the depth of each word. From Bully – sexist – chauvinist – misogynist. One does not lead to the other; the point is to show the extreme nature of one word to another.

Now when I mentioned above that I bullied my house mates because of their grammar, you would not think that I am referring to myself as chauvinist or an extremist or tormentor. Knowing what each word means helps you express yourself, communicate better with people and have a general understanding of the world and the people that you share the world with.

Let me give a quick example about the word 'stupid'. No one likes being called stupid or hearing someone being called stupid; it's a hateful word with its almost light weightiness. Stupid is a 21st century common word. It has over the years become a general term to use to express something or someone. Simple (simple-minded) would have carried the same weight in the 17th century and to those who know, it still carries the same meaning today.

Brainless is a synonym of stupid. Does it not just carry more weight when you switch from stupid to brainless? Vocabulary also teaches you to watch your words and be very careful about what you are saying to people or yourself. Many wars have been started over miscommunication. So the lesson here is that words are important and like I told my room mate who said he wanted to speak like me, I simply told him to read more, pay attention more and be more mindful of the things he listens to. Keeping a dictionary is also something that has been of help to me. You choose to look up every new word that you hear and you use it in a sentence. Like forcing yourself to run an extra 100m on a 21km run, you choose to use words that are bigger and uncommon in your speech. It is making an effort in what you say and how you say it.

Keep Learning,

English Tutor.

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