Joyce E. Byrd
Word Painting • Web Design • Photo Imagery
The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.
- Edwin Schlossberg


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 puzzles.

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 guides—read!

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 reserved.
Copyright © 2000-2007, Joyce E. Byrd.  All rights reserved.