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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Learning Really IS a Life-Long Process

As I was reading through our text, I came across words like "nexus," "vociferous," "ethnocentric," and "matrilineal," just to name a few. I am not ashamed to admit that I had no idea what these words meant, even though I read the text and it all flowed nicely. OK, actually, I sort of knew what matrilineal meant, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I still had to look it up just ease my mind. I wrote these vocabulary words down and logged onto dictionary.com when I got home to look up their meaning.

I am 44 years old and here I am, looking up these words online because I don’t know what they mean. I know the author used them in the right context. Still, to me they are big words. Does that mean I have a limited vocabulary? It sort of makes me feel like my education is a little inadequate, and I ought to have a huge vocabulary by now. I am, after all, 44 years old. I mean, I worked as an executive assistant for a vice president in a large corporation for five years. I also worked in word processing for 16 years. You’d think my vocabulary would include words like nexus, vociferous, ethnocentric, and matrilineal, and other such big words. Nope. Never heard of those words before. Seriously.

I once attended a writer’s conference in Colorado Springs. The guest speaker said we should not use big words or we would lose our readers. Yes, at times, I did get lost in our text, but after re-reading the paragraph, I understood those big words. So it takes me a little longer to “get it.” I am at least getting it. There is nothing wrong with looking things up in the dictionary if you don’t know the definition, even at my age. When I was in word processing, our motto was, “When in doubt, look it up.” And that’s exactly what we did if we questioned grammar, punctuation, and even spelling. One can’t know everything all the time, right?

An English professor (name withheld to protect her identity) said that we should not use a thesaurus in our writing. The guest speaker in Colorado Springs said it needed to be a staple on our reference shelf. I guess it boils down to individual preference because I still rely heavily on both the thesaurus and dictionary for improving my vocabulary, as well as my writing. Learning really is a life-long process. I am forever learning big words, even at 44 years of age.

4 comments:

  1. I really liked your posting.
    I didn't know what those words meant at first either... but I find that using context clues you can find what the Author is trying to say.
    Vocabulary is a life-long process. I think I learn a new word everyday.
    It's OK to admit when you don't know a word. That's why dictionary.com was invented. :)

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  2. The best thing about big words is how specific they are. I love when I have something I want to say and then, poof! I find there is a specific smart-sounding word that fits my meaning.

    It's better than apple pie.

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  3. I think what you're discussing is your difficulty at "decoding" academic jargon. You're certainly not the only person who has problems with that, and I don't know any tips on how to master jargon. None of those words you specifically referenced would ever appear in corporate communication.

    If you went to a writer's conference was that a creative or academic conference? What terrible advice you were given about not using "big words."

    "Big words" are words that I'd like to enhance my personal life with (and writing), too. Academic jargon requires knowledge and mastery of the appropriate larger context. There's a difference.

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  4. Susan, I have to hang my head in shame and amusement, because I'm the kind of person that drools over those hairy, wild, I-can't-even-pronounce-them words. I'm disgusted with jargon, but I am the student who gets papers back with "lay off the thesaurus" comments because they contain rarely used words like "pleonexia" which spell checkers don't even recognize. Scrabble did it to me. Poetry is my drug. I secretly hope that someone will bring a paper in peppered with these velvety, sexy words, even though in my Tech Writing class at BSU we are told all the time we should aim for clarity and brevity. Darn! What is the happy medium? I don't know it. I see words I don't know and I'm in love with writing all over again. It's the only time I like being clueless.

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