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Improving your vocabulary; using a dictionary, thesaurus, and online options for words.
Summer 2017 Workshop #1

June 9, 2017

         I've just spent several hours trying to get myself worked up about writing essays. The more simple I tried to make my explanation, the more I found myself not paraphrasing where I should. Copying word for word is plagiarism, and I didn't want to be guilty. Essays are a rather large and complicated topic, and I'm out of the habit of writing in a structured manner. When I'm writing fiction, or a non-fiction narrative, I seldom start with an outline, but usually with just an idea, Then, I just write and write and when I'm finished I have my first draft.

         So we will start a bit more basic than the six types of essays, but work up to it by the end of the workshop. If I can't be excited about the topic of essays, I won't do a very good job of presenting the information, and you won't be excited about it either. TO have control of the different kind of essays gives the writer great power. Writing is much too fun to start with a complex and difficult to understand topic. Let's start with a more simple topic, and I'll work toward presenting information on essays toward the end of the summer. Please don't feel this information is simplistic, but much will be a review for you. We'll start this workshop with something that all writers are familiar with, words.

         A writer needs an arsenal, a wealth of words: little words, big words, long words, short words, words that everyone knows, as well as a few unique or obscure words that will jolt the reader, and make him think, or maybe even consult a dictionary. Usually the writer will use explanatory words in the sentence before the word is used, or in surrounding sentences, that lead up to the meaning if not outright defining the word for the reader. The writer knows that if the reader can't get the meaning from context, they will either pass the word by or use the dictionary. What are the odds of your reader using the dictionary? It depends on the reader.

         How many times have you put down the book you are reading when you come across some word that is not familiar? Then you've, gotten the dictionary, looked up the word, and then gone back to continue reading where you left off. I know that's the best way for me to learn a word, but I also know I'm likely to get further distracted and not get back to my reading. If you use a word that will be new to your reader, add some context clues so that the reader can get an idea of the meaning.

         Select your words with your audience in mind. Are you writing a fairly tale for small children with a small vocabulary? The newspaper aims for the vocabulary of an 8th grader, a person around the age of 14 or 15. Academic papers, on the other hand, are usually written for the teacher or professor, so the selection of words should not include vernacular, unless you are writing a conversation set in a specific time period. By vernacular, I mean words that are particularly popular at a particular period of time.

         Remember for awhile, everything was "hot." The usage slipped into over-usage from being just about the only word Paris Hilton used to describe her opinion on anything. Her celebrity put the word in front of the public. It was overused by the public for awhile, then we got tired of Paris, and she and her "hot" fell off the radar. We overuse words and phrases when they are popular. Unless you are writing dialogue, don't use words that may sound silly when someone reads your writing ten years from now.

         Once, I got a serious dose of vernacular when I wasn't expecting it. I was teaching ESL (English as a Second Language or English for Speakers of Other Languages), and an idea to meet curriculum goals that seemed like it would teach the class something as well as entertain me. My students could understand the action going on: boy meets girl, boy chases girl, another guy wants to chase girl, men fight over girl, and one man and the girl live happily ever after. One can tell that much from watching the action on the screen even if they don't understand the language they are being exposed to.

         Elvis Presley movies are full of vernacular, words that were used at the time (the 50s and 60s), but aren't used with much frequency these days. Others words the kids didn't get were "swell," which was used quite frequently before the onslaught of the rock and roll generation. "Groovy" falls into the same category. "Chicks" isn't used with the frequency it was fifty years ago, before the days of women's lib and bra burning in the 1960s. However, if you are writing a gangster tale, set in the 1930s in America, you'd probably refer to women as "dames." Language changes with time, and every year, new words are added to dictionaries.

         "Miss, what does he mean when he says he doesn't have much dough?"

         I knew she was picturing Elvis Presley, coated in flour, attempting to make pastry.

         "When you don't have much dough, it means the same thing as money. No dough equals the same as no money."

         If he means money, why doesn't he just say money?

         "That's one reason English is one of the more difficult languages to learn. There are words that are spelled differently, but mean the same thing. Then we also have words that are spelled exactly the same, but have several different meaning. Also, we have words that sound the same, but the meaning is different. That last category is called a homophone; an example of a homophone would be write and right."

         Words that are shades of meaning away from each other are called synonyms: an example might be something like sad and sorrowful, both meaning not happy, but sorrow expressing a more exact meaning. Sad doesn't necessarily bring tears into view, but sorrowful does. That's just my opinion. I could be wrong. Hopefully, you get the point. You, as a writer, want to use the most specific word possible to transmit your meaning.

         Antonyms are words that are opposite in meaning; day and night, happy and sad, hungry and stuffed, black and white, and the list goes on. Most dictionaries will give a few antonyms along with the definition. Entries will also list some synonyms. But the dictionary gives a very short list of synonyms and antonyms. My favorite place to gather and think through synonyms is a thesaurus.

         A thesaurus is put together in alphabetical order of the word you are looking up. If you wanted to know the meaning of "crescendo," you would look for it's alphabetical placement in the C's. The beginning of the listing gives you synonyms for the word, and usually the remainder of that listing will list antonyms of the word. Personally, I can't write without my trusty thesaurus near.

         Do you remember the term webbing that was used in English class? You create kind of a spider web of ideas or words. You might have three ideas you want to convey in your essay. In that case your web would look like a pyramid, with each idea at a point of the triangle. If you wanted to make two points about each of your ideas, you would draw two lines outward from each of the ideas, and add the info you want to include in your essay. Webbing is kind of fun, because you are drawing a picture of what you will write, and the specific points you want to make under each heading. The idea is not to write out a totally perfect sentence, but to jot words that will bring your original thoughts on the subject back again as you write your draft of sentences and paragraphs.

Look up wealth at www.visualthesaurus.com Check out the web of meanings.

         Webbing is a way of outlining your writing without using the formal layout of an outline, with I's and II's and A's and B's and then 1's and 2's with a's and b's under that. An outline sets you up for optimal writing because you know where you have been, where you are going, and you will notice in reading over your article if you have rambled off to another topic. You also have the option of adding to your essay if you get additional ideas. Your new idea should fit logically as another line connected to an existing point in your web.

         "There are lots of ways to say wealth: money, dough, dollars, scratch, greenbacks, even rubbing your fingers together in a certain way indicates that one is talking about spendable cash." If a writer is describing a situation involving wealth, he wants to use the best term, or word, to convey the exact meaning intended. Put an image in your readers' mind. You might be referring to coin and paper money, or perhaps the monetary value of a classic oil painting.

         I use a dictionary book, a thesaurus book, and the online versions of each to help me find the best word to use in my writing. Using a dictionary will allow the writer to check that the word chosen conveys the exact meaning that is intended. It never hurts to look even if you know the meaning. There might be an additional meaning of which you are not aware.What is the exact meaning of moody, compared to the meaning of depressed? Both words convey emotion. A moody person may be happy one minute and depressed the next, while a depressed person seems to be always sad.

         Words that convey emotion can always be checked in the dictionary to be sure you are saying the word you actually mean. Sometimes there's just a shade of a difference between two words, and it's the writer's job to choose the best word for the description. Words that tell of feeling or emotion can be very specific.

         Here is a list of words of emotions. If you happen across any you are not familiar with, jot the word down--either on paper or in a document on your computer, or start an item at Writing.com in which to keep your list of words for emotions. Perhaps you want to keep two items in your words folder, and also keep a list of words that are new to you.

         Use of the word "vetting" seemed to skyrocket recently. I originally though it had to do with taking a sick dog to the animal doctor. My guess was wrong. The dictionary says "to evaluate for possible implementation or acceptance." I thought I was good with words, but boy did I get that one wrong. If you have any doubt about what the word means, or the perspective it portrays, look it up.

         We can all remember the list of vocabulary words we dealt with in spelling class. The spelling teacher told her students to write down the part of speech, where the word came from (etymology), and to write down the definitions. Then the hardest part was to make up an original sentence, and the latter is still a good habit to develop as a writer. If you can't use the vocabulary word with your own communication skills, check the dictionary because it usually gives an example sentence. However, coming up with an original sentence makes the word more likely to stick with you because you have used it in your own creation.

         Here is a list of words used to describe emotions. You are welcome to use this list which I found on the Internet (www.PsychPage.com}. Sometimes seeing something close to the word you are looking for will bring the best word to mind. If your mind is totally blank, looking at this list will help warm your brain up to the idea. It is an incomplete but long list:

Pleasant feelings


understanding, confident, reliable, easy, amazed, free, sympathetic, interested, satisfied, receptive, accepting, kind


great, joyous, lucky, fortunate, delighted, overjoyed, gleeful, thankful, important, festive, ecstatic, satisfied, glad, cheerful, sunny, merry, elated, jubilant


playful, courageous, energetic, liberated, optimistic, provocative, impulsive, free, frisky, animated, spirited, thrilled, wonderful


calm, peaceful, at ease, comfortable, pleased, encouraged, clever, surprised, content, quiet, certain, relaxed, serene, free and easy, bright, blessed, reassured


loving, considerate, affectionate, sensitive, tender, devoted, attractive, passionate, admiration, warm, touched, sympathy, close, loved, comforted, drawn toward


concerned, affected, fascinated, intrigued, absorbed, inquisitive, nosy, snoopy, engrossed, curious


eager, earnest, intent, anxious, inspired, determined, excited, enthusiastic, bold, brave, daring, challenged, optimistic, re-enforced, confident, hopeful


impulsive, free, sure, certain, rebellious, unique, dynamic, tenacious, hardy, secure

Difficult/Unpleasant Feelings


irritated, enraged, hostile, insulting, sore, annoyed, upset, hateful, unpleasant, offensive, bitter, aggressive, resentful, inflamed, provoked, incensed, infuriated, cross, worked up, boiling, fuming, indignant


lousy, disappointed, discouraged, ashamed, powerless, diminished, guilty, dissatisfied, miserable, detestable, repugnant, despicable, disgusting, abominable, terrible, in despair, sulky, bad, a sense of loss


upset, doubtful, uncertain, indecisive, perplexed, embarrassed, hesitant, shy, stupefied, disillusioned, unbelieving, skeptical, distrustful, misgivings, lost, unsure, uneasy, pessimistic, tense


incapable, alone, paralyzed, fatigued, useless, inferior, vulnerable, empty, forced, hesitant, despair, frustrated, distressed, woeful, pathetic, tragic, in a stew, dominated


insensitive, dull, neutral, reserved, weary, bored, preoccupied, cold, disinterested


fearful, terrified, suspicious, anxious, alarmed, panic, nervous, scared, worried, frightened, timid, shaky, restless, doubtful, threatened, cowardly, quaking, menaced, wary


crushed, tormented, deprived, pained, tortured, dejected, injured, offended, afflicted, aching, victimized, heart-broken, agonized, appalled, humiliated, wronged, alienated


tearful, sorrowful, pained, grief, anguish, desolate, desperate, pessimistic, unhappy, lonely, grieved, mournful, dismayed

Taken from www.PsychPage.com}

         These words, listed above, are all feeling words. Some are very similar in meaning. Words may convey the same idea, but with a different nuance, perspective, or notion with conveys a more general or specific meaning.

I found 27,100,000 hits when I looked up emotions. Here are some additional sources you can use to add to your own list of emotion words:

In the Mood? 100 ways to Describe How You Feel--Vocabulary list;

Images of Emotion Words; www.bing.com/images

Feelings and Emotions; www.enchantedlearning.com/wordlist/emotions

Emotions Word List: University of Wisconsin--Madison; www.wire.wisc.edu/quizzesandmore/emotionwords.aspx

Writers should always have a task or two going to expand their vocabulary. I consulted both www.dictionary.com and [c:blue} www.m-w.com and got on their mailing lists to be sent a vocabulary word each day. You will find these sites, and many other on Twitter and Facebook who will give you view into a new and useful word every day of the year.

Homework/Extension Activity:

Create an item in your portfolio for emotion words. Feel free to use the ones provided in this first workshop, but add some to each category. If your mind becomes blank, you are welcome to consult your favorite search engine with the term "emotions." Put this item, plus another item you create to keep your own list of personal vocabulary words, in a folder entitled "Words."

Please send a bitem (item number plus b on front) of your words folder, with the emotion words and vocabulary words items placed inside the "words" folder. When you search the Internet for emotion words, would you please also send me a list of the sites you found most helpful (not all 27 million please!} Half a dozen is more than enough. SO I will hope you be receiving two items from you in the following week.

I hope this information has been of some help as you go forth to envision your next wordly creation.

Send your response to Patrice@Writing.com

Many thanks, a sunflower in Texas, Patrice Lauren An animated sunflower for a sig.

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