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drdoombot's avatar

How important are precision and completeness in learning definitions when expanding your vocabulary?

Asked by drdoombot (8120points) August 20th, 2009

As an English enthusiast, I’ve taken it upon myself to expand my vocabulary further by using the spaced-repetition software Anki.

Some words have more than one definition and I sometimes miss one definition and/or stumble upon the exact wording of a definition when remembering it. For example, the word “fastidious” has the following defintions:

1. Difficult to please
2. Showing or demanding <del>great</del> excessive delicacy or care
3. <del>Having</del> Reflecting a meticulous, sensitive or demanding attitude
4. Squeamish

As you can see above, I crossed out the words that I mistakenly used in recalling certain definitions. Or sometimes I’ll forget definition #3 entirely. When I make this type of mistake in my studying, I move the flash card back to bottom of the pile to review again.

Am I being too fastidious in my studying? How important is precision in studying vocabulary? Is the general sense of the word enough? Could it be that you have to diligently study the precise meaning of a word in order to absorb a general idea of it?

These questions are of particular interest to me as a writer. When asked the definition of a word by a child, I usually cannot give him/her a precise definition of the word, though I can explain it well enough so he/she understands the nuance of the word. I find there are many words that I know intimately, including nuance, without having ever looked up the word in a dictionary. And yet, I don’t want to take the chance of not learning nuance. So I worry: if I don’t memorize all the definitions of words, and precisely as well, will I miss their nuance? Is having a general definition of a word enough?

Re-reading this question has made it agonizingly clear how anal-retentive I can be about certain things.

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23 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Sine Qua Non.

patg7590's avatar

not especially. I use words in conversation that I don’t even know what they really mean. As long as no one around me does, (they usually don’t). No one says boo :]

gailcalled's avatar

@patg7590: Just don’t try that here.

dpworkin's avatar

@patg7590 Sure, no one minds taking the chance of being exposed as a poseur. Who cares?

marinelife's avatar

I think that you are being too fastidious in worrying about word-for-word rote memorization of third definitions.

I (also a lover of words and a writer) use the dictionary all day every day. When I am searching for precise meanings, when I am double checking my thoughts on meaning, etc. It’s one of my tools of the trade.

marinelife's avatar

@patg7590 What can I say? (Shakes head.)

YARNLADY's avatar

I prefer to use words correctly, but as you have demonstrated, the precise meaning is often difficult to pin down.

By the way, with children, whenever possible, it’s better to help them consult a dictionary than to “tell” them the answer.

Rickomg's avatar

Absolutely required in order to really expand your vocabulary. If you do not know the meaning of a word then you will sound like an idiot trying to use it.
Heres what you should do once you find a word you dont understand.
1. look it up in the dictionary and find the definition that fits the context of the sentence it was in.
2. Then put that definition in your own words.
3. Then make up lots and lots of sentences using the correct definition you found for it. Until you feel Great about that definition of the word.
4. Then you go thru the rest of the definitions in the same manner till you have all of them.
5. Once this is don you look up/read and Idioms, synonyms, or word usage notes.
6. Last but one of the most important is look up the derivation of the word. This will help you get a conceptual understanding of the word and thus know it forever.
This may seem very slow going at first but keep doing it and you will be amaized at how much your IQ will jump up just by doing that.
Important note: If you find a bunch of words within the definition that you dont understand, find and use a more basic dictionary. or you can get a long chain of words to clear up. Just for one word. Keep doing this and you wont regret it!

gailcalled's avatar

You increase your accuracy and precision by taking it slow….a word a day. Will Rogers said that if you use a word three times, you own it.

When Milo uses his litter box, he is always fastidious.

tramnineteen's avatar

If you know what it means but don’t remember that exact wording of the definitions from the dictionary it doesn’t matter at all. Different dictionaries will have differently worded definitions anyway.

Rickomg's avatar

Remember you will get out of it what you put into it. Hard work pays off in the end. Lazy pays off now but no accomplishment or achievement. up to you…

Blondesjon's avatar

no ver importa

Brahmaviharas's avatar

“As if all words were not pockets into which now this and now that has been put, and now many things at once.” -Nietzsche

PandoraBoxx's avatar

You may enjoy, which has definitions, synonyms, audio pronunciation, and all sort of fun.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

to get by in life? not really, most people are too busy talking out of their asses that most words get gargled up anyway…

but I do try to be accurate and aware when I’m speaking, I find it makes it much easier to express myself and also allows you to choose your words much more accurately and effectively when you’re attempting to convince someone of a certain idea.

ekans's avatar

I use ANKI to enlarge my vocabulary as well. When I come across a similar situation, where I got the general sense of the word, but missed a part or wasn’t exactly correct, I put it into the pile of cards that is to be reviewed not at the end of the session, but the next day. This gives me the satisfaction of knowing that I got the card mostly right, but still need a little work on it. If I continually get the word not quite right, I start putting it into the pile for review at the end of the session.

mattbrowne's avatar

Depends on your job. If you’re an editor it’s very important. If you’re a hip hop singer it’s probably less important.

Shegrin's avatar

I also fancy myself a bit of a wordsmith, much to my friends’ chagrin. Sometimes it’s better to try to get your point across to the masses in simple terms. Also, correct people when they use a word incorrectly or use an incorrect word. My ex is famous for saying, “Here, can you just scam through this and summarize it for me?” Maddening. In today’s society, we are a dying breed. The best we can do (being so outnumbered) is to just edit as we go along and hope someone actually re-reads it.

Tomfafa's avatar

It seems the Q is becoming purely academic… nothing wrong with that. I say that to really find the importance of correct vocabulary, use it! Become a wine taster and you’ll see how important the precise right words really are. Not to mention how pleasurable wine becomes. Same for orchestral compositions of any era… learning the right way to intellectually describe what we hear is what makes humans! It is these collection of pleasures that makes life worth living. Try it with sex. My list is long… make your own. Enjoy!

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