Words in English and other languages have been called the "pictures of ideas
," the "pegs on which ideas are hung
," and the "swift artillery of thought
Words are all this and much more. Words are the visible, audible symbols of the power that sets and keeps communication in the world in motion. It is the live motive force behind writing, speaking,
negotiating, learning, teaching, and much more.
Words spoken or written, flashed over the TV, sent hurtling through the air, or typed hurriedly on Twitter, start wheels moving, direct armies into action, decide the success and triumph, or the failure and tragedy of world events. They are the keys that "unlock not only all the literature of the world to the human mind
," but all the documents of the world, ranging from presidential speeches, movie scripts, biblical truths, world events, business and industry. They are the flesh and blood and bone of human expression.
If you are preparing yourself to improve your writing and speaking, let your course of study include first, words; last, words; always and everywhere, words.
Be curious about words. Cultivate "word inquisitiveness
Own a dictionary (digital or print) and use it constantly to quell your curiosity about words. A good dictionary not only tells you how to spell and pronounce words, but also what they mean. It informs you to variations in spelling and pronunciation; as to capitalization
and word division; as to prefixes and suffixes; as to compounding and dividing words; as to parts of speech; as to abbreviations; as to various word classificationsantonyms, synonyms, archaisms, slang, improprieties, obsolete and dialectic forms. It is, indeed, a word wonder-book
In addition to all this information, you find in your dictionary brief biographies of famous people; dates, names, and places of great historical events; hundreds of illustrations and diagrams; the location of the principal cities of the world, with population; quotations from literature;
foreign phrases, and so forth. You can greatly benefit with such a book that contains so much of value for intelligent, workaday living.
The dictionary contains approximately 450,000 words. You cannot know all of these words, of course. You only need to know a small particle of them. It is estimated that the average "word possession" or vocabulary of individuals at stated ages is as follows: Eight years, 3600; ten years, 5400; twelve years, 7300; fourteen years, 9000; average adult, 11,700; superior adult, 13,500.
Career, schooling and other academic and business pursuits
demand the services of educated adults. If you want to excel in life, you are under obligation to acquire a wide-range, elastic vocabulary. This means knowing how to use words correctly, how to pronounce them clearly and accurately, how to link them together concisely into proper company, one with another. Listening to good speakers, reading good books and periodicals, indulging in good conversationall of these will help you meet this obligation. But the dictionary will do most. John Ruskin
, speaking of the "well-educated writer," has this to say about the use of words:
"Whatever language he knows, he knows precisely; whatever word he pronounces, he pronounces rightly; above all, he is learned in the peerage of wordsknows the words of true descent and ancient blood, at a glance, from words of modern canaille; remembers all their ancestrytheir intermarriages, distant relationships, and the extent to which they were admitted, and offices they held, among the national noblesse of words at any time and in any country. But an uneducated person may know, by memory, many languages, and talk them all, and yet truly know not a word
of anynot a word even of his own."