Garland Greever & Joseph M. Bachelor
What, then, is your first task? Somebody has
laid down the injunction-- and, as always when
anything is enjoined, others have given it currency--that
each day you should learn two new words. So
be it,--but which two?
The first two in the dictionary, or hitherto
left untouched in your systematic conquest of
the dictionary? The first two you hear spoken?
The first two that stare at you from casual,
everyday print? The first two you can ferret
from some technical jargon, some special department
of human interest or endeavor? In any of these
ways you may obey the behest of these mentors.
But are not such ways arbitrary, haphazard?
And suppose, after doing your daily stint, you
should encounter a word it behooves you to know.
What then? Are you to sulk, to withhold yourself
from further exertion on the plea of a vocabulary-builder's
To adopt any of the methods designated would
be like resolving to invest in city lots and
then buying properties as you encountered them,
with no regard for expenditure, for value in
general, or for special serviceability to you.
Surely such procedure would be unbusinesslike.
If you pay out good money, you meditate well
whether that which you receive for it shall
compensate you. Likewise if you devote time
and effort to gaining ownership of words, you
should exercise foresight in determining whether
they will yield you commensurate returns.
What, then, is the principle upon which, at
the outset, you should proceed? What better
than to insure the possession of the words regarding
which you know this already, that you need them
and should make them yours?
The natural way, and the best, to begin is with
an analysis of your own vocabulary. You are
of course aware that of the enormous number
of words contained in the dictionary relatively
few are at your beck and bidding.
But probably you have made no attempt to ascertain
the nature and extent of your actual linguistic
resources. You should make an inventory of the
stock on hand before sending in your order for
You will speedily discover that your vocabulary
embraces several distinct classes of words.
Of these the first consists of those words which
you have at your tongue's end--which you can
summon without effort and use in your daily
speech. They are old verbal friends. Numbered
with them, to be sure, there may be few with
senses and connotations you are ignorant of--friends
of yours, let us say, with a reservation. Even
these you may woo with a little care into uncurbed
fraternal abandon. With the exception of these
few, you know the words of the first class so
well that without thinking about it at all you
may rely upon their giving you, the moment you
need them, their untempered, uttermost service.
You need be at no further pains about them.
They are yours already.
A second class of words is made up of those
you speak on occasions either special or formal--occasions
when you are trying, perhaps not to show off,
but at least to put your best linguistic foot
foremost. Some of them have a meaning you are
not quite sure of; some of them seem too ostentatious
for workaday purposes; some of them you might
have been using but somehow have not. Words
of this class are not your bosom friends. They
are your speaking acquaintance, or perhaps a
little better than that. You must convert them
into friends, into prompt and staunch supporters
in time of need. That is to say, you must put
them into class one. In bringing about this
change of footing, you yourself must make the
advances. You must say, Go to, I will bear them
in mind as I would a person I wished to cultivate.
When occasion rises, you must introduce them
into your talk. You will feel a bit shy about
it, for introductions are difficult to accomplish
gracefully; you will steal a furtive glance
at your hearer perchance, and another at the
word itself, as you would when first labeling
a man "my friend Mr. Blank." But the
embarrassment is momentary, and there is no
other way. Assume a friendship if you have it
not, and presently the friendship will be real.
You must be steadfast in intention; for the
words that have held aloof from you are many,
and to unloose all at once on a single victim
would well-nigh brand you criminal. But you
will make sure headway, and will be conscious
besides that no other class of words in the
language will so well repay the mastering. For
these are words you do use, and need to use
more, and more freely--words your own experience
stamps as valuable, if not indeed vital, to
The third class of words is made up of those
you do not speak at all, but sometimes write.
They are acquaintance one degree farther removed
than those of the second class. Your task is
to bring them into class two and thence into
class one--that is, to introduce them into your
more formal speech, and from this gradually
into your everyday speech.
The fourth class of words is made up of those
you recognize when you hear or read them, but
yourself never employ. They are acquaintance
of a very distant kind. You nod to them, let
us say, and they to you; but there the intercourse
ends. Obviously, they are not to be brought
without considerable effort into a position
of tried and trusted friendship. And shall we
be absolutely honest?--some of them may not
justify such assiduous care as their complete
subjugation would call for. But even these you
should make your feudal retainers. You should
constrain them to membership in class three,
and at your discretion in class two.
Apart from the words in class four, you will
not to this point have made actual additions
to your vocabulary. But you will have made your
vocabulary infinitely more serviceable. You
will be like a man with a host of friends where
before, when his necessities were sorest, he
found (along with some friends) many distant
and timid acquaintance.
Outside the bounds of your present vocabulary
altogether are the words you encounter but do
not recognize, except (it may be) dimly and
uncertainly. Some counselors would have you
look up all such words in a dictionary. But
the task would be irksome. Moreover those who
prescribe it are loath to perform it themselves.
Your own candid judgment in the matter is the
safest guide. If the word is incidental rather
than vital to the meaning of the passage that
contains it, and if it gives promise of but
rarely crossing your vision again, you should
deign it no more than a civil glance. Plenty
of ways will be left you to expend time wisely
in the service of your vocabulary.
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