Once our formal education is done and dusted, most of us abandon the habit of learning new words in our own language. This is a pity, because expanding our vocabulary makes us smarter: it boosts our memory and improves our ability to think and reason.
Make it a habit to reach for a dictionary every time you read or hear a new word. Be sure to read the whole entry. A good dictionary will include the pronunciation of the word, outline its origins and history, list the different meanings and give examples of its usage.
It is a good idea to keep a dictionary at hand when you are unsure of spelling of a word, because the spell checkers that come with your word processing software can be unreliable. A dictionary will also help you when you are playing Scrabble or struggling to solve a crossword puzzle.
As for a thesaurus, it is indispensable when you are writing something and want to find the right word or to avoid repeating the same word several times in a row. Unlike dictionaries, thesauri do not give the definition of words. They group words according to their meaning and include synonyms and sometimes antonyms.
You may ask: Why bother with printed dictionaries and thesauri when we have everything online?
Well, there is no denying that the future of dictionaries and thesauri is online. Online has one enormous advantage that print cannot match: the entries can be updated quickly. And that is of crucial importance for such an ever-changing entity as language is.
Of course, when you take your search for words online, you need to make sure to use due discretion, because you cannot trust everything that’s posted on the internet. It would probably be a good idea to pay a subscription fee for access to a reliable dictionary and thesaurus.
Personally, I am still partial to good old printed dictionaries and thesauri. I find that the slow plodding through a big, thick book allows me to concentrate and helps me to memorise new words. Besides, as I browse through the pages looking for a specific term, other wonderful entries catch my eye. That way, one session is likely to increase my vocabulary by several words!
If you feel like that too… get your dictionary and thesaurus while they are still around! And don’t be surprised if you find yourself leafing through them even when you don’t need to look up a word, simply for the sake of exercising your brain.