Bubble Vocabulary and the Working Vocabulary

I read this blog post and loved the concept of a bubble vocabulary: the words we almost know, sometimes use but are secretly unsure of. The post talks about how the author has run into the social discomfort of misusing a word that he only sort of knows on the fly in conversation. I don’t know how many people have poked fun at me because I’ve used a word wrong. Some of those incidents have scarred me for life. I admire him for being willing to bring it up and start healing some of our collective shame over these well intentioned mishaps. He points out that it’s a good thing to expand our spoken vocabulary and use more exact words and it serves no good purpose for people to humiliate those who are brave enough to step outside of the comfortable word zone.

Reading his post reminded me that I’d really like to expand my bubble. When I am writing I often know there are better, more exact words that I could use for what I’m saying but I can’t think of them. Often when this happens I settle for a close enough word. This leads to me spending several minutes while editing trying to figure out what word I meant when I wrote the idea down the first time. I flip through a thesaurus or dictionary only to give up and rewrite the whole sentence using a word that I have just discovered that will work but not in the way that I originally wrote the sentence. I would really like to be able to pull out and use more of the words that I know when I need them. I think it would make my writing a lot better and easier.

I did some research online.  A vocabulary gap is normal. People generally recognize a lot more words than they actually use. In fact there is a name for the part we use: “working vocabulary”. Unfortunately when I looked it up on the web there were no suggestions for expanding our working vocabulary. All the hints were about expanding the vocabulary as a whole, basically adding new words. Which didn’t help me. What I want is to be able to use more of the words I already know. So I made up a game that I can play with myself whenever I’m waiting and have nothing else to do. Basically I chose a boring word such as “couch”, and define it. In this instance I am thinking of couch as the thing you sit on. Then I try and come up with as many synonyms as I can. After I’ve done that I try and think of other meanings to the word. In the example of ‘couch’ you can couch things in language.

I don’t know if my game actually expands my working vocabulary but it is rather fun.

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