I recently started receiving a daily email from Word Genius. I have no idea how I got signed up. Normally this would piss me off, but unlike the spammy nonsense that fills the rest of my inbox, I look forward to this one. It sends me a new word every day, and so far I haven’t known a single one. Creepy algorithm that can read my brain? Perhaps. Or maybe I just don’t know very many words… Either way, Word Genius is proving the adage “you learn something new every day.” Today’s is alacrity. It’s a noun that means “a cheerful willingness,” though ironically, it sounds to me like the opposite of cheerful for some reason. Anyway, my sentence is this:
Alacrity is a particularly good characteristic to have when searching for a new job.
Update: I’ve received a few more emails since I wrote this and some of those words, I have known! This has actually made me happier, as now I feel a little bit smarter than I did when it felt as though whole sections of the English dictionary had somehow escaped me. I put it in the same category as being terrible at Crossword puzzles, and always losing at Trivial Pursuit.
When I was in high school, we had something called the Words book. In it were just as the title suggests: words (and definitions.) Whenever someone says a word or I read a word that I don’t know, or that I do know but is extra impressive, I label it a Words book word. We had to learn ten Words book words a week, and were quizzed on them every Friday. I specifically remember learning “inclement,” which as most probably know means “bad” but only in the context of weather. It seemed useless to me to reserve an adjective for a single noun. Anyway, the majority of the words I memorized sadly fell away fairly quickly post quiz. I’d imagine the same was true for my classmates. I don’t think just hearing a word and definition is a particularly good way to learn; you need context for it to stick.
Maggie has become obsessed with Bananagrams, a Scrabble-like game but you play off of your own words, and do so as quickly as you can. Like in any word game, those who know more words have a leg up. Maggie spends her time asking if this or that is a word as she desperately scrambles to beat me. (You don’t realize how many words DON’T exist until you play a game like this.) Over ten games or so, she’s asked if “roe” is a word. I’ve said yes, and explained it means fish eggs every time. But she will no doubt ask me again tomorrow, and won’t have any idea what it means. In fact, when I asked her yesterday she said, “apparel?” No doubt she had mixed up “roe” with “don,” the latter being another three-letter word she also often wants to use. I helped define “don” by singing “don we now our gay apparel…” hence her apparel reference. Aside from each being three words, and sharing an “o,” these words obviously have nothing to do with each other. But in this game, definitions don’t matter, and so there is no context nor impetus for her to remember them.
The lesson here is that reading really is the only sure-fire way of learning new words and having them stick. Unfortunately, both of my children received my reading genes. While I love to read now, I absolutely hated it when I was their age, so I do sympathize with their nightly plight despite wanting to strangle them both over the incessant complaining.
And so… back to Word Genius. I am learning (or re-learning, depending on the word) a new word every day. I am going to teach each one of these to my kids every night over dinner. I will ask them to use each in a sentence that relates back to something that happened to them that day. And we will review those words and those sentences weekly. And maybe, since it’s the dinner table and not the classroom… And maybe, since it’s sentences that are personally contextualized… they will remember them. Or not. If not, then at least I’ve tricked them into telling me something about their day beyond “it was good.” I hope this new routine I’m about to introduce won’t create a miasma among the Kain family members.