“We totally had a really great time at the concert. It was just so awesome. I thought everything was so cool.”
A lot of us talk like this, young and old. But apart from emotional exuberance, it communicates little. Full of empty intensifiers (“really,” “just,” “so”) and empty superlatives (“awesome,” “great,” “cool”), our language is lazy.
Your speaking reveals your thinking. Lazy speaking reveals lazy thinking. Jesus Christ said thinking and speaking are so closely connected that whatever is in your mind can’t help but come out in your words (Luke 6:45).
So, what is in your mind? If you are like the average person, not much: You express your thoughts by using only about 1,100 words during your lifetime, and half the time, you are recycling the same 100 words.
If you are not challenging yourself in your speaking, you are not challenging yourself in your thinking.
William Shakespeare challenged his thinking. His plays used about 22,000 different words! He didn’t lazily let his words tumble out of his mind. He didn’t simply toss in another “awesome” for every little thing that was above average.
Elevating your thinking elevates your speaking. But did you know that elevating your speaking actually elevates your thinking?
Enhancing your vocabulary is a worthwhile effort. It means learning and using a greater variety of words. It means using “exhilarating” when you mean exhilarating, “convenient” when you mean convenient and “virtuous” when you mean virtuous, instead of “awesome” for all of the above. It means reserving “awesome”—no matter how delicious your sandwich tastes—to describe only those things that inspire an overwhelming feeling of reverence. It means sharing your mind with precision, interest and color.
Herbert W. Armstrong was quite young when his mind turned to the subject of vocabulary. He learned words largely through reading, especially reading author Elbert Hubbard. Hubbard claimed to have acquired a larger vocabulary than any man since Shakespeare, and that he decided to acquire one even larger! He admitted that this goal was motivated by intellectual vanity, but he was motivated to ennoble his speaking and his thinking!
Later, young Mr. Armstrong’s boss told him that he should aim not to impress people with long, complex words, but to really communicate with as many people as possible as effectively as possible. This still required working to build his vocabulary, but doing so in a different way. Mr. Armstrong wrote in his autobiography: “My effort, then, became that of developing the ability to use the largest variety of words readily comprehensible by most people when heard or read.”
As young Mr. Armstrong developed his writing style, he wrote: “Immediately I set out to develop a distinct and effective style. It had to be fast-moving, vigorous, yet simple, interesting, making the message plain and understandable.”
In elevating his vocabulary, Mr. Armstrong elevated his mind and the minds of those he communicated with. When God later called him to serve His Work, Mr. Armstrong’s communication skills—and the level of his thoughts—were ready!
“There is no more important element in the technique of rhetoric than the continual employment of the best possible word,” wrote Winston Churchill, another masterful communicator. Learn the meanings of many words, and you will know when and how to use “the best possible word.”
How important are words? Mr. Armstrong used them to do God’s Work. Winston Churchill used them to save Western civilization. Shakespeare used them to enrich the English language and culture. Jesus Christ used them to change human history.
Mr. Armstrong gave a lot of thought to how he expressed his thoughts—and God’s truth. He established Spokesman Club, and in the Club manual, he wrote: “Strive for certain goals in speaking. … Work to build a good-size vocabulary so that the exact words will always be at the tip of your tongue to say what you have in mind to say … and to make it plain and understandable.” Exquisite advice, especially considering who it is coming from.
The “Increase Your Word Power” section of the manual gives these steps you can use to start challenging your thinking and your speaking by learning more words: Become “word conscious” by being sensitive to new words and their meanings. Read more publications, like good books, that have challenging vocabulary. Get in the habit of looking up word definitions (and on top of that, keep track of them in a word journal and review them from time to time). Use your new words in your conversation with others—this is the really important part; until you move that word from your reading or hearing vocabulary into your speaking, you aren’t exploiting its full potential. Finally, set a goal of learning one new word per day.
Learning and using new words will feel different at first, but like breaking in a new pair of shoes, you will soon feel quite comfortable and capable with them. Those words will help you elevate your thoughts and enhance your skill at communicating them and connecting with other people. It was true of Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Shakespeare, Mr. Hubbard and Jesus Christ, and it is true for you too. The more you ennoble your language, the more you ennoble your thinking—and your life.