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Vocabulary: Why size matters

Glenford Smith
Career writer

“Your boss has a bigger vocabulary than you have. That’s one good reason why he or she’s your boss.” So claims famous lexicographer Dr Wilfred Funk and Norman Lewis, co-authors of the popular 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary.

Unless you’re the rare exception who has consciously worked to increase your vocabulary as an adult, they are dead right about you, too. Funk and Lewis recount a study undertaken by Dr Johnson O’Connor of the Human Engineering Laboratory of Boston who gave a vocabulary test to one hundred young men who were studying to be industrial executives.

Five years later, all, without exception, of those who had passed in the upper 10 percent had executive positions, while not a single young man of the lower 25 percent had become an executive. That doesn’t surprise you, does it?

After all, which of us didn’t think in high school or university: “The day I pass this course, that’s it! I won’t take up another physics or math book ever again! I don’t know what all these strange symbols and irrelevant theories have to do with real life and making money anyway.”

This general attitude of just studying to pass and forgetting about the subject forever after has carried over into vocabulary building, for most people. They never intentionally work on their vocabularies after leaving school. For them, the size of vocabulary really doesn’t matter.

Perhaps you too are thinking, “Come on; you can’t be serious! What does vocabulary have to do with my job? I’m great at what I do and that’s all that matters.” Well, vocabulary has a lot to with your job – and your pay. And it’s not because knowing big words are more important than your technical expertise.

Your vocabulary is an indication of your intelligence. Your word power reveals your thinking power. Words are how we communicate the ideas we have in our minds. Words are the symbols of ideas; the more ideas you are familiar with, the more words you know. People with superior ideas and who can communicate them effectively are more successful. They are paid more money and are entrusted with positions of greater responsibility and influence. This is true at the workplace, in your church, at the Kiwanis, in politics, or at school.

So, do you need to become a walking dictionary, able to impress, confute and confound everyone you meet with your unchallengeable verbosity? No, that’s not the goal. You don’t need big words to communicate well, but you need the right choice of words to best express your ideas. Strategically growing your vocabulary will increase your storehouse of ideas, as well as develop the freedom to work with the right tools of the knowledge era – words.

To begin, start reading more. Also, spend 15 minutes every day learning new words from a good dictionary, or a vocabulary book like that mentioned above. Here’s why: when it comes to vocabulary, size matters – bigger is better. Check your boss’ vocabulary if you doubt it.

*Glenford Smith is a motivational speaker and a personal acheivement coach. Email

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