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Improve Vocab: Read Calvin and Hobbes (Among Other Things . . .)

Joined: 11/3/2010
Posts: 206
Want to improve your vocabulary for the SAT? Here’s what I do, but I’d love to hear your tips in the comments as well. :)

1) Read Calvin and Hobbes. I would steal Bill Watterson’s brain in a split second if I had the opportunity and a skilled lobotomist. Watterson has an incredible vocabulary and the Calvin and Hobbes comics are drop-dead hilarious if you go for that slightly-immature-yet-still-philosophical sort of humor.

The strip revolves around Calvin, a rebellious first-grader, and his imaginary friend Hobbes, who appears as a stuffed tiger to everyone else but as a real, ferocious, man-eating tiger with a philosophical side and a degrading view of humans to Calvin.

Calvin has never been a literal six-year-old despite his revulsion for girls and incredible imagination. What six-year-old would say things like,

1. “Obviously I’ve tapped into some primeval well of the human psyche.”

2. “Your simian countenance suggests a heritage unusually rich in species diversity.” (I must use this as an insult sometime.)

3. “I refuse to be victimized by notions of virtuous behavior.”

I’ve been reading Calvin and Hobbes since I was big enough to hold one of Watterson’s anthologies without tipping over. Store a Calvin and Hobbes comic book next to the Porcelain God and learn a new word every time you take a dump. Heck, you could learn two or three new words if you’re constipated.

(At the bottom of this blog I’ve included Calvin’s answers to his various test questions because it’s a crime if you haven’t seen them. If I had the nerve, I would love to answer my tests like Calvin does.)

2) Subscribe to the “Word of the Day.” Where else can you learn seemingly pointless words like “defenestrate” and “crapulent” (which mean “to throw out a window” and “sick from overeating” respectively, if I remember correctly).

It’s right there waiting for you in your inbox when you check your email every morning. The fun part is using the word throughout the rest of the day and getting blank stares from everyone, especially when you tell your brother to go defenestrate himself.

3) Keep a vocabulary journal. This doesn’t have to be restricted to vocab words. I include phrases I read that day that I enjoyed, snippets from books, bits of conversations I heard that made me laugh, words I made up that I want to continue using for fun, etc. For example, my vocab journal entry from yesterday looks like this (you’ll probably see these words in my future blogs):

Malapropism: an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound
Gormandize: to eat greedily or ravenously
Afflatus: a divine imparting of knowledge; inspiration
Enumerate: to mention separately as if in counting; name one by one; specify, as in a list; to ascertain the number of; count
Enuresis: lack of control of urination, especially during sleep; bed-wetting; urinary incontinence
Prognostication: a forecast or prediction
Immure: to enclose within walls
Anodyne: anything that relieves distress or pain
Shibboleth: a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc. that distinguishes a particular class or set of persons; a slogan; a catchword; a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth
Bromide: a person who is platitudinous and boring; a platitude or trite saying
Oppugn: to assail by criticism, argument, or action; to call in question; to dispute
Pabulum: something that nourishes an animal or vegetable organism; food; nutriment; material for intellectual nourishment
Bete noir: an anathema; someone or something which is particularly disliked or avoided; an object of aversion; the bane of one’s existence

“smog-bleary, jaundiced sun” – great imagery

“You’re insane.” “I must disagree. I’m completely outsane.”

Neglected positives

Nonversation: a conversation that is going nowhere
Speeching: speaking formally

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. – Shylock from The Merchant of Venice

4) Remember: the thesaurus is your best friend. No, it’s not cheating to use the thesaurus. In fact, I think it’s incredibly smart. I learn tons of words by using the thesaurus. Type in “lifeless” and get a great vocab word like “pabulum.” It’s a beautiful thing.

5) Actually USE the words. Every time I learn a new word, I try to use it in a story, book, or blog. First of all, if you learn a word but never use it, what the heck is the point? Secondly, once you use it, you realize what sort of context you can use it in and how to use it (I’m famous [or should I say notorious?] for my malapropisms ;), but I’d rather use a word the wrong way and learn the right usage than go around thinking a word means one thing when it really means another!) it’ll come easier to you when you need to pull it out of your mind.

What I’m not saying to do is crowd every single new word you learn into a single blog. There’s nothing more annoying than reading exceedingly cluttered writing that has a string of five or six adjectives preceding every noun and even more adverbs like a string of big smooches stuck on every verb. (And I know I’m as guilty of this as anyone else; it’s my Achilles heel.)

Words don’t have an expiration date, so don’t be in a rush to use them all up at once. Descriptive words are used to embellish good writing, not hinder it.

* * *

Calvin’s test answers that I promised:
Q: What important event took place on December 16, 1773?
A: I do not believe in linear time. There is no past and future: all is one, and existence in the temporal sense is illusory. This question, therefore, is meaningless and impossible to answer.

Q: What was the significance of the Erie Canal?
A: In the cosmic sense, probably nil.

Q: When did the Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock?
A: 1620. As you can see, I’ve memorized this utterly useless fact long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system.

Q: 2+7?
A: I cannot answer this question as it is against my religious principles.

Q: Where is Plymouth Rock?
A: I am not presently at liberty to divulge that information as it might compromise our agents in the field.

Q: Explain Newton’s First Law of Motion in your own words.
A: Yakka foob mog. Grug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork. Chumble spuzz.

Q: Mr. Jones lives 50 miles away from you. You both leave home at 5:00 and drive toward each other. Mr. Jones travels at 35 mph and you drive at 40 mph. At what time will you pass Mr. Jones on the road?
A: Given the traffic around here at 5:00, who knows?

Q: What happened in Concord in 1775?
A: Let’s be honest. You’re asking me about Concord? I rely on the bus driver to find my own house from here. Concord could be on Neptune for all I know. And what happened 220 years ago? I’m a kid. I don’t know what’s going on NOW. I don’t have a shred of context for any of this. It’s hopeless, Miss Wormwood, hopeless.
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Comment by vedantydv123

Joined: 12/29/2018
Posts: 6
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Posted: Friday, February 1, 2019 5:55:06 AM
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