Thursday, September 29, 2016

Reading-The Sine Qua Non (Part 2)

If you are a Mencken reader, you are pretty sure to have a good idea of what they mean whether you have ever looked them up in a dictionary or not. You have acquired the words by exposure to them in print, by seeing them used in context, often with built-in definitions, and you have added them to your recognition Vocabulary. 


Next . . . Do you know the meanings of the words “astronaut,” “aerospace, ” “sonic," "apogee,” or "perigee”? You do if you have been reading the newspapers regularly. Yet just a few years ago these would have been odd and unfamiliar words to most adults in the United States. Reading, once again with an assist from listening, has painlessly and effectively added these words to your Vocabulary.

Reading is indeed the sine qua non of vocabulary building. And, happily, the reading does not have to be deep, turgid, and tiresome. Many of the most readable modern writers use some words you are not likely to know but ought to add to your vocabulary. Three first-rate authors, from the standpoint of vocabulary building, are S. J Perelman, Max Shulman, and H. Allen Smithall humorists.

A few newspaper columnists also use exact, powerful, and sometimes unusual words. James Reston, Walter Lippmann, and Harriet Van Horne are three excellent examples. You may not always agree with what these writers say, but your vocabulary is likely to increase from year to year if you read them.

I will later stress the importance of a planned reading program and the necessity of choosing high-quality newspapers, magazines, and books. This advice is worth repeating. Almost any good writer will occasionally use words you should know but don’t, and the only way you can even discover such words is by seeing them in black and white.

“True enough,” you say, "but how do I learn these words?” Dr. Robert Dale, Professor of Education at the Ohio State University, suggests that you underline words you do not know, then merely guess at their meaning and proceed with your reading. This is good, common-sense advice. There is no point in ruining your enjoyment of a book or article by habitually grabbing the dictionary to check word meanings. (And you won’t do that anyway, I’m Sure!) You can always check the words later if you wish. But whether you actually look up definitions or not, you will be improving your vocabulary almost unconsciously just by noticing the words. This may sound like mysticism, but it is not. In fact, it is basically the way you learned thousands of words that are now part and parcel of your vocabulary. 
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