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How to Improve Your Word Habits

Nov 25, 2007
To attain peak efficiency in reading, you ought to work through all the words and phrases regularly employed in your own field. Chemists, lawyers, engineers and physicians do this as a part of their training. Why should you not be as thorough in your word habits as they are in theirs?

Do not expect brilliant results here overnight. But if your reading does not improve after three or four months of word drill, this will almost certainly indicate that you suffer from other serious handicaps.

A Word List to Master

Here follows a list of words taken, with permission, from a famous survey made by Professor E. L. Thorndike, of Teachers' College, Columbia University. For school use he prepared a list of the 10,000 words which appear most often in books and newspapers ordinarily read. I must assume that nearly all adults are familiar with the most common words among these. But probably the less common will offer a little difficulty at least to some who wish to improve their reading habits.

When you have learned all their important meanings you will have the basis of a non-technical working vocabulary. To perfect your business reading, you must next build up your own special vocabulary. As you learn new words here, write them down.

Be sure to avoid very rare words, select the important terms only, and be sure to learn all the important meanings of each.

Abash, Alcove, Arrant, Barrow
Abbot, Alder, Arrogant, Barter
Abject, Allay, Arsenal, Baseness
Abridge, Allege, Artisan, Bask
Bin, Burgess, Chaos, Compile
Binder, Burnish, Chargeable, Complement
Bladder, Bushing, Charger, Completion
Blanch, Butt, Chasm, Compliance
Craftsman, Default, Discomfit, Eke
Crag, Defective, Discord, Elapse
Cram, Defendant, Discount, Ell
Cramp, Defer, Discreet, Embark
Crane, Deficiency, Disk, Embassy
Crank, Define, Dismount, Embattled
Crate, Deform, Dispatch, Ember
Evince, Foliage, Geyser, Harbinger
Executor, Forbade, Girt, Hardihood
Exempt, Forbearance, Girth, Harmonious
Expedient, Forfeiture, Goad, Haycock
Expend, Formation, Goblet, Hazard
Expressive, Formidable, Gong, Haze
Extol, Fornication, Goodman, Heather
Extremity, Forsworn, Gourd, Hedgehog
Exult, Fortitude, Gradation, Hedgerow
Fabric, Fount, Grail, Heinous
Hysterical, Infidel, Jerkin, Lens
Idolatry, Infuse, Jig, Leper
Ignoble, Ingenious, Jingle, Lever
Imbibe, Inglorious, Jockey, Levy
Immeasurable, Ingredient, Jocund, Lewd
Imminent, Iniquity, Jog, Liable
Pestilence, Portable, Progeny, Ravenous
Petrify, Portal, Prologue, Ravine
Pew, Portentous, Promenade, Ravish
Reflexive, Ringlet, Scorner, Shorn
Reformation, Rinse, Scorpion, Shortage
Regent, Riotous, Scrim, Shred
Regime, Risen, Scroll, Shrivel
Reiterate, Rivet, Scruple, Shrug
Relapse, Rivulet, Scullion, Shutter
Relax, Roaster, Scum, Shuttle
Relay, Robust, Scurry, Sickle
Reliance, Rocker, Scythe, Sieve
Relinquish, Rocket, Sect, Sill
Rely, Roe, Sedate, Simmer
Sniff, Stile, Sware, Tinder
Snip, Stirrup, Swarthy, Tinge
Spout, Suite, Tempestuous, Treble
Upland, Vesture, Weasel, Writhe
Usage, Via, Weaver, Wroth
Usurp, Vial, Weld, Yew
Usury, Vicar, Welt, Yond
Utility, Victual, Wench, Yore
Uttermost, Viewless, Wend, Zephyr
Vacillate, Vigilance, Whelp, Zest
Vail, Vigorous, Whim, Zoological
Valve, Villa, Whisk


Write down, without consulting the dictionary, all the distinct shades of meaning you can think of for the word "heavy." Now write a sentence or phrase in which "heavy" occurs, each time with a distinct meaning.

After you have finished, turn to some dictionary (not a small one!) and see how many meanings you have missed. Finally see in the dictionary how many meanings "heavy" has which are strange to you. Ignore the obsolete meanings of course.

Repeat the pattern of this exercise with each of the following words:
Heel out initiate of
discharge (the verb) over
contract (the verb) wild
mill will
mince close
strain (the verb) seed
straight rule

Note. - If you know as many as one-half of the meanings of these words, you have an unusually good grasp of them. If you do not know them well enough to write them down on order but do recognize them when you see them in print, then you have a fair working grasp.

Carry out these word drills and you will soon have a very good grasp of many words.
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