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“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

–Mark Twain

Case for a Better Vocabulary

Developing a great vocabulary is one of the most overlooked ways to improve our lives and careers.

It is often believed that learning many words is only helpful for writers and speakers, but the truth is that everyone benefits from it, both personally and professionally.

For business leaders and entrepreneurs, there are many reasons to improve your vocabulary.

First, to be effective, communication has to be simple.  Having a good vocabulary is more than knowing a large number of words—the point of having a good vocabulary is choosing words with greater precision.

Second, in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of the methods to control the population was the development of a new language called Newspeak.  This language consisted of few words and none that might convey subversive thoughts or new ideas.  Entire populations were controlled by limiting their vocabularies.

When you lack words, you shut down new insights and lines of reasoning.  People who possess a limited vocabulary have a much tougher time breaking out from old patterns of thought or questioning.  By the same token, each new word you learn opens a new avenue of thought, empowering you to think or take action in ways you could never have before.

Lastly, ongoing research by Johnson O’Connor always finds that no matter how he analyzed data, whether it’s divided by race, gender, age, or scholarship levels, a person’s vocabulary level is the best single predictor of occupational success.

Expand Your Vocabulary

All business leaders and entrepreneurs need an expanded vocabulary.  And fortunately, expanding your vocabulary is not all that difficult.  So here are some suggestions for those in the business world:

  1. Intentionally work on your vocabulary

Improving vocabulary is key in mastering the specialized words used in business language.  Adopt an inquisitive approach to learning and find the meaning of any business word you are currently unfamiliar with.

  1. Read Widely

You can significantly enhance your vocabulary by reading a wide variety of material related to your specific field or business.  Equally important, read good writers for both fiction and non-fiction and practice noting their use of words.

  1. Play Games

Play games like crosswords and word search games.  Look for specific-themed language games, such as crossword puzzles based on financial terms or word search games using terminology from the banking industry.

  1. Watch Business-Oriented Programs

Watching programs that focus on business is an excellent way to improve language skills because the people in those programs will be using key terms frequently and correctly.

  1. Practice

Work to choose the most precise, simple word.  Words have shades of meaning, so choose the word that best conveys your intent.  For example, change hot to warm, scorching, or fiery to communicate more precisely.

  1. Avoid clichés

Clichés often seem to communicate well but are often vague.  Examples of tired, uninformative cliches include “outside the box,” “the bottom line,” “proof is in the pudding,” and “when all is said and done.”

The Bible

There is no better exposure to a broad vocabulary than the Bible.

The word Bible literally means the books in Greek.  Written over a 1,500-year timeframe, it is authored by over forty writers and covers varying genres such as poetry, historical narrative, law, wisdom, gospels or biography, epistles or letters, prophecy, and apocalyptic literature.  And, as you can imagine, each genre brings its own set of vocabulary usage and interpretation.

The Bible also encourages the appropriate use of our vocabulary.

Ephesians 4:29 says,

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 5:4 says,

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

And Colossians 4:6 says,

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Words have power.  And they impact those around us for good or bad.  So, expand your vocabulary to strengthen your communication skill so that your words will have a lasting positive impact.