The Gift of Words
By Joyce E. Byrd
MY FIFTH GRADE teacher, Mr. Grotewald,
opened my eyes to the power of a diverse vocabulary. Upon
arriving to class one day, my classmates and I each discovered
The New Pocket Roget’s Thesaurus in Dictionary Form
on our desks.
Like most of the other students, I had never heard of a thesaurus.
Mr. Grotewald explained that this paperback would be one of
the most valuable tools for each of us to have at our disposal
throughout our lifetime of education.
Basically, a thesaurus is a compendium of synonyms. (An interesting
bit of trivia: no synonym exists for the word "thesaurus".)
Mr. Grotewald encouraged his students to use the Thesaurus
when preparing book reports and other written essays for our
studies. It also has proven to be a handy reference when a
dictionary is not readily available. (I always have my pocket
Thesaurus with me!)
Whether you aspire to be a professional writer, an orator,
or a casual reader, a thesaurus is a valuable tool. Many computer
word processors, such as Microsoft Word, now have a thesaurus,
either built-in or as an adjunct, available for users to reference.
Mr. Grotewald also encouraged his students to have fun with
word games. Word games provide an entertaining way to build
your vocabulary. Crosswords, word search, hangman, Scrabble®
, and similar word games challenge players to learn new words
and alternative word definitions.
A friend has started competing in multi-player Scrabble on
the Internet. When she challenged another player, she was
amazed to learn that “nth” is a word. She claims
to have learned several new words over the course of only
a few months.
Crossword puzzles, particularly American-style, invite players
to learn the multiple usages of words. The grid format provides
hints to unsolved words via the cross-section of letters from
solved words. Together, the clues, available letters from
solved words, and a trusty dictionary can defeat most crossword
When starting to solve crosswords, begin with those classified
as “easy”. In addition to a good vocabulary, you
need to understand how crosswords are played. There are (mostly
undocumented) rules; for example, if the clue is written with
abbreviations (i.e., “summer mo.”) the answer
is an abbreviation (i.e., “Aug.”). So get the
feeling of how to play through easy crosswords before attempting
to tackle the New York Times Saturday puzzle (yes, Saturday!).
Reading provides an excellent mechanism for expanding your
vocabulary. Whatever book genre you prefer, reading allows
you to experience the use of words in new and sometimes entertaining
ways. Not only will you learn from the content, but you also
can learn new words. Whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction,
romance novels or biographies, technical manuals or travel
The best way to reinforce what you have learned is to use
it. Set aside time each day to write. One way to achieve this
is by keeping a daily journal. With a personal journal whatever
you write is for your eyes only, unless you choose otherwise,
so you can feel free to write your thoughts about anything.
The journal can be a vehicle to enable you to experiment with
word usage while learning more about yourself in the process.
Discipline is the key. So, practice, practice, practice.
Copyright © 1999, Joyce E. Byrd. All rights