The Toughest Row To Hoe — Helping Your Vocabulary Bloom

When it comes to a Wordsmith’s vocabulary, size matters. Whether you’re a writer, a digital communicator or SEO magician, it’s incredibly useful to be able to say the same thing in a variety of ways.

Our social media experts are well acquainted with the challenge of tweaking a call-to-action without changing the core message; in a situation like this, it helps to have a healthy collection of interesting synonyms to play with.

Taking the time to feed a large vocabulary makes our writing more powerful, more effective, and easier for audiences to grasp. It helps us select the perfect words for our needs, so we can provide your demographic with the smoothest journey to understanding.

Having more words at our fingertips improves our ability to express ourselves and connect to other people – a big vocabulary raises the upper limit of our imagination.

Ed Cooke describes the mind as a garden: “Each new word begins life as a seed. It needs to take root, and will die without attention early on. In this way, expanding your vocabulary is a long-term activity that depends on good habits and sensible practice.”

Here are a few techniques the Wordsmith team use to nurture their word gardens:

Turn Over a New Leaf

“I read.”

— Ben

It’s a pity that after leaving education, the importance of making time to read has a tendency to fall by the wayside. As children, books are one of the most useful tools we have for collecting new vocabulary and learning how to use it in the most effective ways – but as adulthood looms, other obligations take priority.

Our writers do their best to read every day. Whether it’s a news article or a poetry anthology, we’ll often discover (or rediscover) a particularly beautiful turn of phrase on our morning commute.

Vocabularies can be stifled by reading the same sort of thing every day, so if you’re already an avid reader, you might consider pushing yourself even further by diversifying your reading list – our team regularly exchange books we’ve enjoyed, which helps protect us from genre stagnation.

Return to Your Roots

“Etymology is probably the easiest way for me to engage with new words. I love diving into the history of our language, it’s like being an archeologist.”

— Jonathan

If you haven’t been exposed to the quiet joys of etymology, it’s about time you got stuck in. Thanks to countless generations of cultural mingling (plus all that nasty colonial business) English is a bit of a mongrel language, making it even more fascinating to dive into the history of the words we use on a daily basis.

Since most of the things we say have an origin in Greek or Latin, learning the root of one word can open up the doors of understanding for a string of new linguistic pearls.

Examining etymology can also bring to light the hidden fascination of the words we take for granted – take electricity, for example. It comes from Greek elektron, meaning ‘amber’. How come? Because just before the term was coined in 1600, scientists discovered that rubbing amber on a piece of fabric generates static electricity.

Weed Out

“Sometimes when I find myself lost for words I use a thesaurus to inspire me. This especially comes in handy when establishing a different tone of voice – whether you describe something as decadent, delicious, scrummy or yummy says a lot about your brand.”

— Amy

Everyone uses empty words (‘um’ or ‘like’) in speech – it’s the human equivalent of a buffering screen, purely used to fill the space while our brains catch up with our mouths. Often, these empty words can sneak into our writing – which makes things difficult when you’re contending with a character limit.

Our digital communicators make an effort to identify these insubstantial words and replace them with something more useful to our audience. We’re constantly asking ourselves — am I using eight or nine sentences to express something that could be explained in just one? Am I using needlessly flowery words when something simpler would help the audience reach understanding more quickly? Which words will my audience want to engage with?

This process keeps our copy tight, and our vocabularies constantly expanding.

Lay it on with a Trowel

“I really love it when I learn what a word means and then suddenly I hear it everywhere I go, it’s like people have always been using it around me but I just didn’t have the knowledge to be able to connect with it before.”

— Jon

Linguistics scholars estimate around twenty repetitions of a word for it to stick in your vocabulary. So, once you learn a word, it’s a good idea to use it as soon as you can. Try slipping it into a conversation later in the day. If that’s a bit too awkward, squeeze it into an email, or hide it in your diary (if you don’t keep a journal, start one – it’s a fantastic way to develop your personal writing style). Writing a word down can help it settle in your memory – noting its definition is even better.

Finally, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to somebody else – here at Wordsmith Digital, we often get our best words from each other.