My mom, a special ed teacher, rode my academic ass for the better part of my life. While the rest of you did your homework, she layered additional learning tasks. Every week I was required to take three reading comprehension tests. No, I’m not kidding. When I passed, I got a point and when I earned enough points, she would take me over to the toy store to pick out a prize.
Like other parents, my mother also pushed me to read, regularly taking me to the local library and bookstore. This backfired when, for my twelfth birthday, she gave me a dictionary.
“I didn’t ask for this,” I said with a huff.
“No, you didn’t. But you should have.”
I peeled back the cover.
“I already wrote your name in it so, no, you can’t return it,” my mom said as she collected the discarded wrapping paper.
To show my dissatisfaction, I refused to use it.
“What does discursive mean?” I asked.
“Go look it up,” my mom instructed as she rinsed some potatoes.
To this day, the spine and pages of that dictionary remain pristine. You see, I hated learning vocabulary. Remembering origins and roots made my brain hurt. And even when I finally learned what a word meant, I rarely understood how to use it in a sentence. Or at least in a sentence more complex than ‘this is [insert adjective here]’.
A few years ago, as my writing habit became more of a passion, I vowed to grow my vocabulary. I signed up for Word of the Day. I even started a blog where I posted a word’s definition, tried using it in three different sentences, and then invited my readers to participate. Things were going well until I visited my then boyfriend in Alaska. Standing alongside a stream, glacier melt running through the wilderness, I turned to this one-time NASA astronaut candidate and tried to show off.
“The turgid waters rush over the slippery rocks and down toward the forest,” I said with a proud smile.
“Turbid,” he said with a chuckle.
Not having a large vocabulary is like trying to paint only with primary colors. After a while, you get pretty tired of blue. But I haven’t given up yet. One trick I recently learned was to print out what I’ve written and then go through and circle any word I think can be improved. Then I scour the thesaurus and dictionary for ideas. It’s actually done wonders for my writing. Especially my novel. I mean, in the span of 40,000 words, variety is crucial.
Even with this trick under my belt, I still know I can do more. But what? No, I am serious. How do you guys build your vocabulary? And if any of you suggest vocab cards, I will cut you.