Monday, July 26, 2010

Vocabs of Steel

Crunch up those vocabs! This article provides suggestions for those who want to solidify and expand their word power. Make use of dictionaries (definitions, etymology, synonyms), thesauruses, Google lookups, crossword puzzles (printable, online), and other types of word puzzles. A huge influence in building word power is curiosity about words, at least, enough curiosity to look up definitions when encountering new words. In numerous cases, text surrounding new words can also indicate meaning.

Speaking for myself, I believe a lot of my vocabulary building came from reading superhero comic books and running across new words when I was in early grade school. In these kinds of comic books, the protagonist would have dual identities—usually a disguised or costumed character (superhero) and an everyman/everywoman persona (alter ego) that allowed him or her to slip away to emerge as the superself. Common storylines included the main character's social and work interactions with lesser mortals while disguised as someone ordinary, but battling enemies while costumed. Hmmm, my idea of an archetype would be the Man of Steel himself, Superman!

I think vocabulary building benefits by reading comic books tends to fade upon readers reaching the early teens. As it's been years since I had any steady diet of comics, I don't know what level of vocabulary appears these days in spoken/thought balloons and panel-narration phrases.

In the more recent past, I had taken a humanities class that was immensely helpful for building vocabulary: The Greek and Latin Element in English. The required textbook was English Words from Latin and Greek Elements, by Donald M. Ayers and the accompanying workbook. The gist of the course was to recognize syllables pertaining to their basic Greek and Latin origins and their definitions.

A major basic resource to build vocabulary is the dictionary. Two of my favorites are Merriam-Webster Online and More major ways to satisfy word curiosity include looking at a word's etymology and synonym(s) in a dictionary. Besides viewing synonym(s) at the dictionary's entry, looking up the word in a thesaurus provides even more information. In Google, prefacing the term with "define: " narrows the results.

Additional ways to expand vocabulary are reading well-written articles, blogs, and op-eds. As a side-effect, well-written pieces provide good examples to emulate mechanics such as proper spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and style. A lesser effective means (to me) of expanding vocabulary is reading online comments, particularly at sites that often invite flame wars or result in them. Many such posts are rife with bad mechanics and incoherency, to say the least.

More to and About and

Merriam-Webster Online is accessible using a URL as short as Note various other features of the website. At the FREE Daily Features tab, clicking Daily Crossword (Today's Puzzle) serves up links to puzzles—Universal Daily Crossword, L.A. Times Daily Crossword, and Jumble Crossword (a version of Jumbles that also has vertical terms). The downside to the puzzles are waiting out the commercials. The LA Times puzzle has parameters you can set. A nice feature is instant feedback in immediately showing your typed letter in red if it's incorrect. is accessible using a URL as short as This site has a link to Universal Daily Crossword as does, but without a commercial. While at, I ran across an eye-catcher question : "What word has the most definitions?"

"Set" has 464 definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary. "Run" runs a distant second, with 396. Rounding out the top ten are "go" with 368, "take" with 343, "stand" with 334, "get" with 289, "turn" with 288, "put" with 268, "fall" with 264, and "strike" with 250.

More about Puzzles

Awhile back, I wrote an article about crosswords. At that time, online puzzles had not entered my mind. In researching material for this article, I encountered online puzzles, initially seeing them as links in a couple of online dictionary sites. One online crossword puzzle site that provides small ones is at In case you hadn't guessed, the site owners would like you to buy the full-blown application.

A few weeks ago, I had run across a printable-puzzles site. I was unsuccessful seeking it out to cite it here. In trying to actually find places that didn't just go to other links that cited links, I resorted to and was partially successful in doing google image searches for "printable crossword puzzles for free". A reasonable replacement is Want More Crosswords?. Mouse over a puzzle thumbnail, click it to open it in a small-size window, right-click and select View Image to open the puzzle, then print it. (Recommended: Preview it and adjust scale before printing it.)

If wordsearch puzzles is more your type, find a cache at Livewire Puzzles' FREE Printable Word Search Puzzles.

Differentiations among Similar Items and Terms

I have listed some sets of words that present common definition and usage problems, accompanied by enlightening links. No doubt you can think of many other candidate sets; differentiating such terms can help boost vocabulary. One advantage of having my own blog is that I can and do publish content where I can access pet topics without needing to fire up my computer. Anyway, I have provided candidates for comparing and contrasting terms, including compare and contrast.

compare, contrast
compose, comprise
Best excerpt—
If you are confused, just say, "The rock is made up of three minerals," or "Three minerals make up the rock."
conglomerate, conglomeration
My conclusion for difference:
conglomerate: a thing composed of heterogeneous elements; mass
conglomeration: a mass of miscellaneous things
envy, jealousy
farther, further
infer, imply
indifferent, ambivalent, apathetic
Very short explanations as below:
indifferent—no feeling one way or the other
ambivalent—pulled in different directions
apathetic—don't know, don't care
assure, ensure, insure
loan, lend

The following sets pertain to animals.

butterfly, moth
Butterfly/moth differences, including a table with six physical and behavioral differences
yellow jacket, wasp, hornet, etc.
frog, toad
tortoise, turtle
rabbit, jackrabbit, hare

A special category of similar items and terms are homophones, which I discuss in my blog article. Ones that pop into mind frequently are the following sets:

to, too, two
your, you're
there, their

There are various ways to strengthen your word power; get your vocabs of steel! Reinforce, improve, and adopt methods for yourself.


Celeste said...

Great blog, Wanda! Love the title!

Peggy said...

Great article. Esp. enjoyed your compare/contrast word list. Now I'm gonna check out those cookie recipes!

Anonymous said...

Very good article and an interesting approach.

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