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Improving vocabulary

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Hey guys, I am not too sure about where to start this thread. Ever since I was a kid in elementary school I have always struggled with school. Math and reading. Math is coming along now quite well but I still have to study a lot. What I am looking for is books that will help improve my vocabulary. I have the Oxford Book of Quotations, I read that but I am looking for just anything that would help me to be speekin mo better. Thank you all so much. Parsonsdb [u]
post #2 of 22
Read anything by NY Times columnist WIlliam Saffire. In addition to his political column that runs twice weekly in the Times, he's written scores of books on topics from grammar to history. Also read his weekly On Language column. Saffire is cerebral, witty and a real scientist of the written word.
post #3 of 22
Read classic literature. It's 'classic' for a reason. Yes, some of it is a bore; if you find yourself yawning, skip that book and pick another. From Oscar Wilde to Ernest Hemingway, there's a wide range of brilliant writing that will not simply expand your vocabulary, but also expand your entire conception and appreciation of the English language, and the cultures that have produced and enriched it. Plus, it's far more entertaining then just about anything on TV. You don't have to restrict yourself to the official canon of great works, of course. Whatever genre appeals to you, there are authors who have excelled within it. Do you like detective stories? Read Raymond Chandler, or Walter Mosley. Into science fiction? Read Theodore Sturgeon, or William Gibson. If you tell us what subjects or genres interest you, I'm sure several of us will have recommendations that will appeal to you. Whatever you choose, don't approach reading as if it were a chore. Sure, you may want to keep a dictionary on hand, so you can check words that have you scratching your head. Mostly, though, you want to be so engrossed in the writing that you'd rather scratch yourself bald than put down the book.
post #4 of 22
Reading alone isn't going to help, even though it's absolutely necessary. The real key is to understand the meaning of these words (not just the definitions, but the context and subtleties attached) and USE THEM. Reading literature and Saffire's column will help with the first part, but unless you make a real effort to use the words in your daily speech, you will never add them to your lexicon. You can also check out Webster's Dictionary Online, they have a word of the day email you can sign up for. Good luck - I applaud your efforts.
post #5 of 22
I also suggest reading the classics especially the mofren ones such as James Joyce's "Ulysses," Jean Paul Sartre's "Being and Nothingness," and such. Also watching the TV show "Frasier" might help as they tend to have a rather higher amount of intellectual activities than most others. One could say it is rather an esoteric show. Regards, Jeffrey
post #6 of 22
Ouch, you're going to make the poor guy read Joyce? I find Joyce painful -- just too much work. I would recommend, instead, reading some philosophers, such as Emerson (who embodies the true optimistic forward-looking spirit of America more than anyone I have ever read). Another good writer is William Buckley. He, like Saffire, is very conservative, but even if that's not your cup of tea, you can take knowledge away from it.
post #7 of 22
Read the classics. Start with the Shakespeare. When you're done there, read your way into the early twentieth century. Read modern literature, using the Nobel Prize and Booker Prize shortlists as guides. Be mindful that while these works may become classic, they are more likely to be judged more harshly by future generations. (Just look at what people say about Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck these days.) Read for enjoyment. If it becomes a chore, put down the book and pick up GQ - or Alan Flusser if you need a good laugh. No matter how many Harlequins you read, never, ever use the words bosom, lovers or loins in conversation.
post #8 of 22
No matter how many Harlequins you read, never, ever use the words bosom, lovers or loins in conversation.
Oh, I don't know; I've had good reasons to use "bosom" and "lovers" in conversation. "Loins," however, I've only found useful when traveling through Brooklyn (i.e., "Ya loins somet'in' new ev'ry f***in' day.") As for postmodern literary critics, I say to hell with 'em"”read Steinbeck anyway. Certainly he's a better place to start than Joyce or Sartre...not that they aren't fine authors, but you don't learn to climb mountains by starting with Everest. For that matter, I would be disinclined to recommend commencing with Shakespeare. I'd want to cover most of the Bard before I even thought about "Ulysses," yes, but if one is diving into great literature seriously for the first time, I think it would be better to begin with more contemporary language. I also think the best introduction to Shakespeare is through seeing his dramatic works properly performed (that is, on stage, not on film, and preferably in a production that doesn't hinge on some bizarre "interpretation"). Ultimately, one should read most if not all of Shakespeare, but"”sonnets and such aside"”the man wrote plays, not novels, and there's good reason to approach them as such.
post #9 of 22
If you want to look beyond books, I recommend reading the Op-Ed pages of any major newspaper.  Many of the nationally syndicated columnists (Krauthammer, Will, Safire, etc.) have a real flair for language.
post #10 of 22
As one the posts pointed out, you should watch Shakespeare productions. Laurence Olivier eas the greatest in Shakespearean acting. Also for philosophy perhaps try Schopenhauer, or for simpler ones, Kant, Camus, and such. Try Thomas Mann, and the slighty more obscure novels such as Maldoror, and Against Nature. They have a high amount of vocabulary. Regards, Jeffrey
post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 
OH WOW.... Stu, pstoller, PeterMetro, LabelKing, LA Guy, Ambulance Chaser I want to say thank you all so much for you help. This weekend I am planning on going book hunting, never thought I would say something like that.. I just want to say thank you all again.. I really appreciate this advice and insight. Parsonsdb
post #12 of 22
I prefer Asimov and Heinlein in science fiction- particularly Stranger in a Strange Land (do you grok?)- the "director's cut". But I'll have to try Mr. Stoller's recommendations. It's always great to find quality new science fiction. Another, more mundane and easier source strictly for improving your vocabulary, is the monthly quiz in Reader's Digest.
post #13 of 22
Steve B., I really like Asimov's earlier stuff, particularly the original "Foundation" trilogy. Later in his career, 0though, I think that he was really just concerned with hitting 400 books, 500 books, or whatever crazy number he was at. I agree with you about the Reader's Digest thing. But it just seems to me to be a bit of a cop out, reading the pre-digested stuff. Sort of like picking up Gucci knock offs at Banana Republic, if you take my meaning.
post #14 of 22
I prefer Asimov and Heinlein in science fiction"”particularly Stranger in a Strange Land (do you grok?)"”the "director's cut." But I'll have to try Mr. Stoller's recommendations. It's always great to find quality new science fiction.
I really like Asimov's earlier stuff, particularly the original "Foundation" trilogy. Later in his career, though, I think that he was really just concerned with hitting 400 books, 500 books, or whatever crazy number he was at.
It's been a while since I read either author, but I remember feeling that both eventually relaxed their quality control a bit too much. As much as I enjoyed Heinlein's earlier writing, I thought that"”in his novels, at least"”his sexual obsessions got the best of him. That's already evident in "Stranger...," which, though still a noteworthy read, has aged a bit badly in its Playboy Philosophy/"free love" trappings. (Granted, in 1961, he was somewhat ahead of his time, but, in 2002, his take on sex holds up about as well as your "groovy" hair in your high school yearbook photo.) That tendency completely derailed 1970's "I Will Fear No Evil," a brain-transplant tale that, dubious social commentary aside, ultimately amounts to little more than preposterous softcore porno. After that, I had a hard time taking Heinlein seriously. To be fair, this is probably his most-maligned work, and part of the problem was that he became very ill before he could complete the editorial process. Alas, his increasingly rampant elitist/Libertarian leanings can't be blamed on peritonitis. I have to concur with LA Guy on Asimov. He had a good stint as a top-notch writer, but somewhere along the way he devolved into little more than an overrated speed-typist. His later Foundation novels, for example, are a good illustration of why trilogies stop at three. Sturgeon was a contemporary of Heinlein's and Asimov's"”Heinlein even sent Sturgeon outlines for stories when Sturgeon had writer's block"”and thus isn't really a "new" author. He's perhaps best known for his excellent 1953 novel, "More Than Human," but his metier was the short story: in 1970, he won the Hugo and Nebula awards for "Slow Sculpture." Star Trek fans may also know that Sturgeon wrote two shows from the original series: "Shore Leave" and "Amok Time," the latter having had considerable impact on the entire mythology of Vulcans. Gibson, on the other hand, is relatively new: he's the original "cyberpunk" author, a specialist in near-future SF whose works include "Johnny Mnemonic," "Neuromancer," "Mona Lisa Overdrive," and so on. He also penned a couple of X-Files episodes. The Sci-Fi film smash, "The Matrix," is largely dumbed-down Gibson"”Gibson even coined the term, "the Matrix," to define his version of cyberspace, upon which the film's version is clearly modeled. All of this has little to do with vocabulary, of course, save that these authors have used it masterfully, with Gibson being particularly creative at coining new terms that have a resonance approaching Heinlein's invention of "grok." As for Reader's Digest, I prefer to do my own digestion.
post #15 of 22
IMO, while Gibson certainly has a knack for inventing new terms and using existing ones to novel effect, his inability to write sympathetic or even convincing characters has limited his impact. And picking up on pstoller's comments regarding Heinlein's sexual obsessions, it seems that there is a tendency for science fiction writers, Asimov and Heinlein among them, to indulge in this type of literary wish fulfillment. (Variations of the Pygmalion myth, often involving beautiful android women, and often with a "My Fair Lady" bent, abound in the genre.) Apparently, the rumors are true. Guys who frequent Star Trek conventions and comics stores are more likely than not to be geeks. (True, lifelong, geeks, not the professed faux ex-geekiness of supermodels.) For a more serious (although perhaps a little dated) treatment of sexual politics in science fiction, pick up Ursula LeGuin's "The Left Hand of Darkness".
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