Saturday, January 30, 2016

Vocabulary shortcomings

As a writier I've always thought I had a fairly well-rounded vocabulary.  Certainly there are many words I don't know, but SHERLOCK has forced me to be a bit of a wordsmith lately as I hunt down the meanings of words like meretricious, fatuous, alienist, recalcitrant, intransigent and many others.

Recently I purchased the book, The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King, and although I enjoyed the book, I didn't enjoy the fact that my vocabulary took a bit of beating.  I have suddenly become so hyper-sensitive to words I don't know that when I come across one, I will stop immediately to look up its definition and write it down.  King's book produced several pages of my handwritten definitions. Perhaps these words are common to some people, but they weren't to me.  I grew a bit despondent over my alarming inability to immediately know these words that were popping off the page like a proverbial sore thumb.

I began to think my vocabulary was in serious trouble and so I set out to correct the issue by ordering four books that were supposed to improve me.  They are:

The Words You Should Know by David Olsen - 1200 essential words every educated person should be able to use and define.

More Words you Should Know by Michelle Bevilacqua - 1500 more words every educated person should be able to use and define

Word Smart (The Princeton Review) by Adam Robinson and the staff of the Princeton Review - Building an Educated Vocabulary

Pocket Posh Word Power:120 Words To Make You Sound Intelligent - by Wordnik.

Of these four, the first two were far too basic for me, but I do recommend that all parents should start their kids on them no later than the first year of middle school, and that these words should be known by the time they leave middle school.  The third book, Word Smart, should be started in high school.  All three books are geared towards college/university entrance exams, SATs and GREs.

The last book purely is erudite fluff, full of words you will never need but which can pepper a conversation with the best ivy league clerisy or the hoity-toity art crowd.  Even then, you likely will not have heard of 90% of them nor ever have a real need to use any of them.

I am working my way through digesting Pocket Posh, but it will take some time to assimilate those words into my written vocabulary.  I have already assimilated one, however, and solved a word mystery from the most recent Sherlock episode, "The Abominable Bride."  I had no idea what the line "Viennese alienist" meant, but I do now.  It was a reference to Sigmund Freud.  It is words like that which can make me feel like a complete moron.

I will soon be ordering the book, 500 Foreign Words and Phrases You Should Know to Sound Smart : Terms to Demonstrate Your Savoir Faire, Chutzpah, and Bravado by Linda Archer and Peter Archer.  I am remarkably lacking in that area.  

I will also soon start reading the The Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King, which is a sequel to the aforementioned book, and hopefully I will be writing down fewer words this time, but she may surprise me. Perhaps my vocabulary beating will be a little less severe the second time around, however.

King, by the way, has a Twitter account for her character, Mary Russell.  It is @mary_russell, and she will answer you as the character.  Mary Russell becomes the young apprentice to the retired Sherlock Holmes during WWI in the The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and in subsequent books marries and builds a life with him as his partner in solving mysteries.