208-376-1701 bryan@bryanyager.com
First a quote: “One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing, or it will die.” – Evelyn Waugh

Good morning and happy Monday!

Over the weekend, while driving to my dad’s to help with weekly chores, I was listening to local sports talk radio. (The Boise State University men’s basketball team had just moved back into first place in our conference and I was hoping to hear a status update on the team’s March Madness possibilities.)

I don’t remember the topic being debated at the time. Whatever the topic, I was only half listening, when I heard one of the sportscasters use the word nefarious. I think he must have said something like, “the player’s nefarious activities resulted in a suspension from the team.”

Nefarious? Say what?

While not positive, I thought I knew what the word meant, at least in general terms. What struck me is that nefarious (pronounced “ni-fair-e-us”) is not a word I recall being used very often in any circle, let alone on a sports program. (Perhaps this says less about the word and more about the size of my vocabulary or the nature of my social circles… 😊)

My mind wondered back to a special man in my life when I was a young boy of maybe five or six. His name was Carl Rahn, and he lived across the street from my childhood home. Mr. Rahn, as I was taught to call him, was akin to a grandfather figure in my early life. Besides being a kind and gentle man, he always had candy in his pocket, and I was certain he was the smartest man on the planet. He was our neighborhood’s very own Mr. Rogers, and it was always a lovely day in his neighborhood.

Almost every time I saw Mr. Rahn, he would (try to) teach me a new word. I remember them being unusually big words that were difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to remember. However, if the next time I saw him I could remember the word he shared, he would reward me with a piece of candy. Wow! That was cool! (He would also give me a quarter if I shoveled the snow off his driveway. I could use the quarter to buy my own candy. What a concept!)

I shared those memories with my Dad when I arrived at his house yesterday morning. We had a wonderful time reminiscing about Mr. Rahn and the neighborhood we called home. He remembered Carl and his love of the English vocabulary. Interestingly to me, Mr. Rahn’s daughter was an author and published at least two books.

As Dad remembers, Mr. Rahn would find a new word in the Webster’s dictionary (no Google in 1961) as part of his morning coffee ritual. He would then focus on using that word in sentences as he went about his day. So, if you ran into Mr. Rahn on the street, at church, in the grocery store he owned, or anywhere your paths crossed, you were likely to hear his word of the day. No one was exempt, not even 6-year-old neighborhood children.

To be honest, I don’t know if there are any words residing in my vocabulary that were originally planted there by Mr. Rahn. Who knows, perhaps nefarious would be on the list. I do know he left a lasting impression on me as a man who lived, and role-modeled, continuous learning well into his 80’s.

My intended focus today is not so much about expanding our collective vocabularies, but more broadly focused on continuous learning of any kind. I know I would be wise to expand my vocabulary. You might see value in expanding your knowledge in some other area of your life. B.B King once said, “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

I also like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wisdom, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”

If you should desire to expand your vocabulary, following are a few ideas:

  • Learn a word-a-day/week. Do what my neighbor Carl Rahn did, focus on learning, and using, a new word every day, or even once per week. Imagine how many more words you will know in a handful of months.
  • Play word games like Scrabble or complete crossword puzzles in your spare time.
  • Use fun phone apps. My wife likes an app on her device called Wordscapes. It makes a game of identifying and spelling words.
  • Read a lot and read broadly. My advice is to read beyond your typical areas of interest. Can be books, articles, blogs. Start, or join, a book club.
  • Learn a new language. Enough said. There are now tons of online options and apps available.
  • Create word lists. I have a colleague who, after retiring from an industry of more than 30 years, started a new job in a completely new industry. He has begun creating a list of all the acronyms and new words, phrases and terminology he needs to learn quickly.
  • Start writing. Maybe someday you will be writing about how not to be nefarious. 😊

Related MMM articles:

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Bryan Yager

“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”

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Bonus Quotes:

  • “Watch your thoughts, they become your words
    Watch your words, they become your actions
    Watch your actions, they become your habits
    Watch your habits, they become your character
    Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

  • “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” — Nelson Mandela
  • “The world is a university and everyone in it is a teacher. Make sure when you wake up in the morning you go to school.” – T.D. Jakes
  • “It is the tragedy of the world that no one knows what he doesn’t know – and the less a man knows, the more sure he is that he knows everything.” – Joyce Cary
  • “Words are potent weapons for all causes, good or bad.” – Manly Hall
  • “Words do two major things: They provide food for the mind and create light for understanding and awareness.”— Jim Rohn
  • “Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.”—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • “By words we learn thoughts, and by thoughts we learn life.” — Jean Baptiste Girard
  • “Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure.” — Edward Thorndike
  • “Words are the most powerful thing in the universe… Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind.” — Charles Capps