Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How do kids get a great vocabulary? By adults using words around them

(and reading, of course).

How ‘Shrek’ Persuaded Me to Let the Words Fly
“Shrek” inspired me to let the words fly around my children. Nope, I’m not talking about the movie “Shrek”, but about William Steig’s wonderful picture book “Shrek.” And I’m not talking about using curse words around my children, but about using a more sophisticated vocabulary in ordinary conversation.

The vocabulary in “Shrek” is extravagant. It’s so baroque that I did some research to find out why Steig had included phrases like “shady copse,” “churlish knave,” “rosy wens,” and “fusty fens.” Had he picked words at random from a dictionary and challenged himself to work them into his story? Did he have pet underused words that he was determined to bring back into favor? (I myself have waged a losing campaign to popularize “chirk.”)

I love words, especially those which have unfortunately fallen out of favour these days. And I have never understood why we talk down to children who are capable of handling words that have more than five letters or two syllables.

I learned a lot of my vocabulary through reading, as opposed to hearing folks talk. I didn't always get the exact meaning, and a few things I terribly mispronounced the first time I used them. I used to read dictionaries for fun, too. YKWIA insists that I have an idiosyncratic use of words at times despite that. That may be. But the best way for kids to learn is to hear the words used (correctly). And in an era of mangling language online (I read instances of 'my advise' rather than 'my advice' yesterday in comments on a news story, for example, and I'm beginning to wonder if anyone can use 'loose' or 'lose' correctly these days, their misuse is so ubiquitous), it is terribly important to reiterate the importance of words.

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