As a child, I discovered the thesaurus and loved finding synonyms for words. My parents had the old-fashioned kind, organized conceptually instead of alphabetically, and I spent hours making word lists. As a writer, I love the thesaurus.
As a teacher, I stressed vocabulary. I pushed students to learn more words, telling them a strong vocabulary would help in reading and writing. I created lists from class readings and from news articles. I let students find words from their own reading and I’d use their selections to create a class list. For fun, we’d open a page in the dictionary and pick several words from the page and the next.
A list of between 10-20 words would last about 10 days. Students would look up the definitions and the parts of speech and write sentences using the words. They’d share their sentences on the board. They’d write stories with the words and create quizzes for peers, swapping with a classmate, and returning the quizzes to be corrected by the writer. We’d play vocabulary bingo and have spelling bees. All to increase their familiarity with more and more words.
As a grandmother, I love sharing children’s literature with my grandkids. When there’s a word they don’t know, we discuss its meaning. They learn, and sometimes these words creep into their conversations.
So along comes our president with his limited vocabulary. I remember watching one of the debates and counting the number of times I heard “huge” or “fantastic” or “great.” And I’m not the only one noticing.
As writer Philip Roth wrote in The New Yorker, referring to Trump “…wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
Yet this lack of vocabulary apparently isn’t a sign of lack of intelligence. As this article says, Trump’s ability to use repetition with his limited vocabulary proved an effective tool to garner support.
However let’s remember he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. I’m willing to bet most voters would prefer a president with a larger vocabulary than who we have in office and someone who could use his words in ways that don’t insult foreign leaders, members of the judiciary, members of the press, and citizens.