Vocabulary Building Tip of the Day: The Key To Retaining those “Difficult” Words

By | December 2, 2011

Our last blog post established the fact that words with comprehensive and broad meanings are more difficult to remember each day than those with simple, narrow definitions. The key to remembering the more difficult words is to simply establish a short and narrow definition for them that you can remember every day – ideally in one or two words. Let’s use ethos as an example.

More Difficult to Retain: Ethos -The fundamental character or spirit of  the culture or disposition of a community, group or person, etc.;the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period. 

Can you identify one or two commonly used synonyms to this word? I define ethos as a “mindset or culture.” Well, that is a lot easier to remember each day than the short paragraph of a definition above, isn’t it?! Notice that mindset was not a synonym provided in the definition.  This exercise will often require you to come up with a simple synonym that is not found in the definition. It is also very helpful to look up the word in various dictionary sources (doing this online is the easiest). One source may define a word in terms more easily understood than another. Some sources may have a list of synonyms outside of the official definition. These are often a useful tool in simplifying the definition to one or two words.

Let’s see how we can apply this technique to the great word prodigious.

Formal definition: Large or extraordinary in extent, amount or degree

Simplified definition: tremendous

That was easy! Try to use an Overnight Vocabulary word in a conversation each day!


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