Several months ago I had as the subject for one of my radio programs the importance of having a good vocabulary. I mentioned at the time that a person’s life inextricably connected in many ways with his ability to use his language.
Well, some time back there appeared in THIS WEEK MAGAZINE an article by Morton Winthrop, titled “Do You Know How Words Can Make You Rich?”
Here’s an expert who’s spent forty years testing people for career-planning, who reveals that the biggest single secret of getting ahead is your vocabulary. And in this article, there was a test to see how good a person’s vocabulary is. Maybe you remember it, and maybe you took it. I took it, and I missed three words. I didn’t know what “bifurcated” meant; it means forked. I missed “phthisis,” and I couldn’t even pronounce it, until I looked it up in Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. It has to do with tuberculosis. And I missed “relict”, which means widow. But I missed this last one because I was going too fast and though the word was “relic”. Anyway, I missed three out of twenty.
But to get back to the article. If you’re not earning enough money, perhaps it’s because you don’t know the meanings of enough words. More than any other single factor yet known vocabulary predicts financial success or failure. Now, don’t jump to the conclusion that a large vocabulary by itself will guarantee your success. Vocabulary, which is really a measure of your potential, must be linked with good work habits, initiative, and responsibility.
The laboratory has discovered that married couples tend to know the same words because of the similarity of their educations, interests and background. Men tend to marry girls with similar-sized vocabularies. So, women who aren’t married yet can fairly accurately predict the earning power of their husbands-to-be (and how much money they’re going to have to live on during their lives) by taking a good vocabulary test. Amazing, isn’t it, but uncannily true.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. As Dizzy Dean, the famous baseball star, radio sports commentator and master of malapropism (and that’s another good word – it means the grotesque misuse of words, and the word itself came from the character, a Mrs. Malaprop who misused words all the time), as Dizzy Dean once said: “There’s a lot of guys that know how to read and write but that ain’t making a living.” But Dizzy Dean would never in a million years have gotten a job as sports announcer if he first hadn’t been a great and famous athlete. It’s a lucky thing for us that he did, because he’s really a good sports announcer and a lot of fun to listen to.
But by and large your ability to know and use your language is vital. Again and again men who score in the top ten percent of vocabulary tests wind up as executives. Those who score in the bottom twenty-five percent almost never do. But don’t worry about it. Vocabulary is one thing that can be learned, and Mr. Winthrop gives us three suggestions:
1) Set a goal of at least one serious book a month.
2) When you read, have a dictionary handy. When you meet a difficult word, look it up.
3) Examine carefully how you heard or saw the word used.
Go to your book store and get a good book on vocabulary, or take a night course, or university extension course in English. It’s the most important subject you can study, since you need it to study everything else.