Vocabulary: To Build or Not to Build?

The human body’s storage room for words is Broca’s area, found in the brain’s left frontal lobe near the inferior frontal gyrus. Thousands upon thousands of words, terms, phrases, idiomatic expressions, and figures of speech are stashed here, and if you so choose you can add scores or hundreds more – maybe specimens such as garrulous, chimera, mnemonic, oeuvre, Broca’s area, and inferior frontal gyrus.* But will expanding your vocabulary pay off?

It depends on how you define “pay.” Newfound words won’t fatten your wallet, ease a cold, or help you find that missing sock, but they can come in quite handy. Therefore, look up any unfamiliar words you stumble upon – prepossessing, perhaps, or antediluvian or salubrious or schadenfreude.** Learning new words or terms, their different senses, and their origins…

  • Helps you convey what you wish to say more precisely
  • Sharpens your reading comprehension – no small reward
  • Opens windows onto history. Discovering nicotine was named for Jean Nicot (the French diplomat who introduced tobacco to his countrymen) or volt for Count Alessandro Volt (the Italian physicist who invented the electrochemical battery) may pique your curiosity and lead you down intriguing pathways. (For additional examples of this kind, see Eponym Guy.)
  • Gives you an edge in word games and on Jeopardy!  (think big!)

Adding heft to your vocabulary is as simple as consulting vocabulary-builder websites or the dictionary. And if you decide to go this route, try not to shilly-shally (v. slang derived from shall I; To show hesitation or lack of decisiveness).

*garrulous = annoyingly talkative • chimera = fantasy; illusion • mnemonic = a memory aid • oeuvre = body of work of a writer, artist, or composer • Broca’s area = the brain’s speech production center, discovered by French neuroanatomist Pierre Paul Broca in 1861 • [inferior frontal] gyrus = convoluted fold between fissures in the cortex of the brain

**prepossessing = good-looking; appealing • antediluvian = of the period before the great flood described in the Bible; prehistoric; outmoded salubrious = favorable to health or well-being • schadenfreude = pleasure derived from the misfortune of others

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