Every month, when I get my ABAjournal magazine, I hasten to read Bryan Garner’s column on Words. He gives
very practical and useful tips on writing. Bryan has an impressive resume which includes being the editor-in-chief of all current editions of Black’s Law Dictionary. In the September 2013 issue of ABAjournal, Bryan asserted that one’s earning is directly proportional to their vocabulary size.( I will like to know your view on this in the comments section). I remember thinking that given how many vocabularies Bryan knew that he must be the richest lawyer in the United States. Here are his exact words: ‘If I were to hazard a fairly educated guess, I’d say that American lawyers’ vocabularies range roughly from 45,000 to 135,000 words. Further, I’d guess that those who know 100,000 to 135,000 words have, on average, at least double the income of those who know only 45,000 to 70,000 words. I would also guess that there are many more lawyers at the lower end of the scale than at the higher end.‘
Garner went on to quote from E.D. Hirsch’s essay, “A Wealth of Words” thus:
• “Vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history and the arts.”
• “Correlations between vocabulary size and life chances are as firm as any correlations in educational research.”
• “Between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.”
Because I grew up having English as my second language, I didn’t have the privilege of picking up vocabularies from everyday conversations. That would have
definitely boosted my vocabulary bank–and I understand now, my bank account. My siblings and I spoke Igbo at home. At school, I spoke English only because if I didn’t, my name would appear in the ‘Names of Igbo Speakers’ list which would in turn result in flogging from the ‘Senior’ who ordered the list.
Things are quite differen in Nigeria now. An educated middle-aged Nigerian woman once saw a kid in one Nigeria store gushing about how ‘awesome’ something was. The woman, who has English as a second language, commented on how easy vocabularies come to Nigerian kids these days. I share the same sentiment. I use ‘nice’, ‘good’, ‘beautiful’ more than I use ‘stunning’, ‘striking’, ‘exotic’. In contrast, at about age five, my nephews and niece who lived in Port-Harcourt could easily use ‘yawn’ in their conversations.
I read some where that you to have hear a word several times before you become familiar with it as to use it in conversations. Below are short stories on how I learned some vocabularies.
1. Aid : It must have been at least two decades since I learned that ‘Aid’ means to provide support for or relief to; help. I was in primary school. We had been given a test on Words and meaning and “Aid’ was one of the words. I didn’t know what it meant. Then I remembered that it was a word I say in the English version of ‘The Memorare’–a prayer we said at Block Rosary. The line read:’That never was it known that anyone who came to your protection and implore thy aid’ I translated the Memorare in Igbo since I knew the Igbo version as well ‘Enweghi Onye gbakwutere gi ka-ichekwaba ya ma o bu yoo gi ka-inyere ya aka’ and I could figure that aid means to help. I got that portion of the test right. This is proof that we can learn something new in the unlikeliest way.
2. Abscond: I used to get pretty good points for my essays in secondary school but one of my classmates, Chioma, always got better scores than I did. One day I requested to see her test paper. She graciously obliged me. Her essay was indeed well written. ‘Abscond’ jumped out at me because I had no idea what it meant. Needless to say that because I was (still am) highly competitive when it came to good grades, I never forgot the meaning– to depart in a sudden and secret manner, especially to avoid capture and legal prosecution:
3.Ephemeral: Years after I left secondary school,I went back to my alma mater. A former teacher had passed on. I was standing in front of the Staff room with the amazing Mr. Osademe, my former English teacher, when he commented on how ephemeral life was. From the context I knew ‘ephemral’ meant lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory:
4.Stale: I learned the meaning from my sister Amara. Someone had used the word ‘stale’ in reference to a news. Amara had asked me if I knew what ‘stale’ meant. I didn’t. From her, I understood that it meant having lost freshness, vigor, quick intelligence, initiative, or the like, as from overstrain, boredom, or surfeit:. So you can say stale gist,stale bread.
5.Serendipity: When I practised as a young attorney in Eastern Nigerian, the wonderful Bertram Faotu was my mentor and in Nigeria-speak, ‘my oga’. Our law office used to buy the Nigerian Weekly Law Report published by the Late Gani Fawehinmi. Occasionally, when a weekly report came in, it contained an authority for a point of law we needed to advance in a case we were working on at the time. Mr. Faotu would say that it was serendipitous. So you can figure that ‘serendipity’ means an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune;luck .
And talking about serendipity, when I was writing this blog, I visited Chioma’s (Chioma of abscond) Facebook page and one of her posts was a grammar test. It appeared she got all the answers right. I got 14 out 15. Yep, more than a decade after ‘abscond’, she is still better at it.
6.Eponymous: I learned the meaning while reading Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah in 2013. In the hair dressing scene that spanned several chapters of the book, Adichie used ‘eponymous’ to introduce the owner of the hair-braiding salon whose salon was named after her. So you can tell eponymous means of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named : of, relating to, or being an eponym .
7.Globe-trott: I learned this compund word from my Sister, Ify. I had retuerned from a vacation and she told me ‘ Hmm- you have been globe-trotting’. It means to travel all over the world for pleasure and sightseeing. So, I hadn’t quite been globe-trotting since I only visited one country. It was also from her that I learned that the ‘t’ in debut is silent.
8.Debut : means A first public appearance, as of a performer. It also has a verb form.
9.You probably know all the vocabularies in this post. Will you like to share some of yours with us? I find that learning through stories can be very efficacious ( and efficacious I learned through the Sacred Heart Prayer). Will you like to guess the meaning, that is, if you didn’t know the answer before now?
10.Garden-variety: I learned the meaning recently. It means ordinary or common. So if you are in Nigeria and prefer to eat anu nchi instead of the more affordable beef, you can say you prefer exotic meats to garden-variety ones.
My goal is that each post I write will offer something new.
On that note, noticed how I cancelled out some words in this post, well, it was just to leave you with one of the tips I learned from the brilliant Bryan Garner–When editing your work, delete every unnecessary word. In Other words, Write straight to the point.
Still didn’t learn anything new from this post? Or just want to try your vocabulary knowledge, see this post and try the quiz for a chance to win a book on writing.
Do you believe one’s vocabulary size determines their earning power? Got a vocabulary story to share? Do contribute in the comment sections. And to get updates when I post new blogs, click the ‘follow’ button.