Overview

This note from our content lead explains why having an educated vocabulary is so important.

Why You Need an Educated Vocabulary

An expansive vocabulary, like a good education, is an asset upon which no price can be set. Not only will a well-rounded vocabulary make it possible to read more challenging articles in periodicals and newspapers, but it will also help you write cogent, precise prose. In addition, a comprehensive vocabulary is a potent tool for communication--finding just the right word to express your thoughts is an extremely useful weapon in your educational arsenal. There is a very good reason why the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and GRE put so much emphasis on knowing a wide range of elevated vocabulary.

Vocabulary lies at the center of knowledge. Secondary school, college, and graduate school entrance examinations’ verbal sections have vocabulary at their hearts—probably the single most important thing, save wide reading, that you can do to prepare for verbal exams is to increase your knowledge of vocabulary. By pondering language long enough you begin to understand that vocabulary forms the very infrastructure not only of knowledge, but also of thought and the expression thereof. College students quickly learn that each course they take centers around acquiring that subject’s specialized vocabulary (most of which is based upon Latin and Greek roots). The knowledge of one new word can reveal entirely new horizons of thought previously inaccessible.

It has often been averred that knowledge is power; if that is true, vocabulary lies at the heart of that power. Knowledge and the ability to communicate effectively are indispensable qualities for success in life; in addition, knowledge of words gives one confidence. Often the smallest of verbal errors can have significant negative impact. Imagine an unclear memorandum within a corporation whose words produced multiple interpretations (amphiboly), for example: an employee might say that she was “fired with enthusiasm” over a project. What could be construed as much interest in the project could also be interpreted as the loss of a job! Communication is the linchpin of success in the family, school, and business world. Imagine the misunderstandings that could be avoided if everyone could express clearly and unambiguously what she or he wanted to communicate.

I once heard a story about a teaching candidate who was interviewing for a position at a prestigious college-prep school. The candidate had the job sewn up until the headmaster found out late in the interviewing process that the applicant did not know what the word “alacrity” meant. Scientia verborum potestas est.