Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Words of the Week

I love words. It seems that you can never have too many of them. Each new word allows you to add nuances to your communications with others (and yourself, if you are a journal-keeper). The more words you include in your daily vocabulary, the more fun you can have playing around with language instead of just talking. I don't take this to extremes in my everyday conversations, and I don't consider myself to have a vocabulary that I would brag about to, say, an English professor. But, I always hoped to pass along the enjoyment of language to my children. So I don't hold back with the big words when I talk to them. Of course, I explain myself more simply when necessary, but they quickly pick up the words I use a lot, like "cooperation", and "appropriate". I read them books that are way above their reading comprehension level, making sure to be very expressive, so they can get lots of context clues. I'm reading "Stuart Little" to Thing 2 just now, and she loves it (Thing 1 has been joining us, to listen to this old favorite again).

When Thing 1 was younger, I could get away with using lots of obscure words to encrypt certain comments to hubby, but that doesn't work very well anymore. Her not-so-little ears prick up when I use an unfamiliar word, and she ASKS WHAT IT MEANS! I almost can't believe it - my insidious plans are working, and she has actually developed a very healthy interest in expanding her own vocabulary! At her request, we now have one or two "Words of the Week", which are written on the whiteboard that hangs in our kitchen. They are nominated by any member of the family who hears someone else use an unfamiliar word. I've decided to share them with you*. In the tradition of elementary school English classes and spelling bees, a definition** of each word will be followed by its use in the sentence that led to its nomination.

This week's words are:

  • disparaging: tending or intending to belittle
    "I don't like it when you speak to your sister in such a disparaging tone."

  • detritus: miscellaneous remnants; debris
    "I just don't appreciate finding all this detritus on the kitchen counter."

Last week's words:
  • ziggurat: a temple in the form of a terraced pyramid, built in ancient Mesopotamia
    "We got to look at a model of a ziggurat in school today."

  • fiduciary: an individual, corporation, or association holding assets for another party, often with the legal authority and duty to make financial decisions on behalf of the other party
    "There is no fiduciary branch of the US government."

*Not because I think my readers need to bone up for the GRE, but because, since we've been doing this for a few weeks, now, I've noticed that they provide interesting little snapshots of life in our family.

**I am not writing a dictionary. I will post the definition that fits the sentence.


ScienceWoman said...

That's a really neat family tradition. I may have to appropriate it when Minnow is a bit older. But for now, our word of the week is "booger." She got the word (and the cold) from her classmates for sure, as it's not a word that Fish or I use. It's funny how language accumulates from all sorts of different sources.

Julie R said...

I think its great that you are reading Stuart Little to Thing 2. My 3 year twins love books and we typically select books for them that are for 4-8 age group instead of usual "pre-school" range. I'm not sure they could manage to sit through Stuart Little, though. Is it an illustrated copy?

ScientistMother said...

that is totally awesome. I find that I use alot of descriptive science words in conversation (ie ubiquitous) in every day conversations. Mr.SM really enjoys learning them. I may replicate your family's tradition.

acmegirl said...

ScienceWoman: We, too get some interesting words from outside sources, since we now live in a different region of the US than where I grew up. Hope Minnow's boogers don't hang around too long!

Julie R: Yes, the illustrations are adorable line drawings by Garth Williams that are interspersed with the text. The publisher is Harper Collins. We only read one or two chapters each night. It helps that many of the chapters are self contained little episodes.

ScentistMother: Ubiquitous is a great word! I will be sure to use that one soon!

Amelie said...

That's a great idea, I'll keep it in mind! Also, as a non-native speaker, I'd love to learn some new words here every week.

Shell said...

Such a fantastic idea! It reminds me of my mom's own vocab learning idea. When I was about eight, she made me learn a new word, from the dictionary, every day during summer break. It only lasted for two weeks. Maybe if she used your technique (def a more fun approach) it would've lasted longer.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

That's awesome. When I used to ask about the meaning of words, my parents (both ancient historians) would tell me the meaning and the derivation. If they didn't know the derivation, they would immediately pull out the dictionary and find it.

This drove me totally batty as a kid ("I just want the meaning, not your stupid old words!"), but I did score ridiculously well on all the verbal standardized tests. And to this day, I pull out the dictionary to find out where words come from. So, good on you for setting habits early!