How do you deal with unfamiliar words? , General Book & Reading Discussion

09.08.2017 12:58

Since reading a couple of Philip Roths books, Ive been questioning the extent and accuracy of my own vocabulary. I found that reading him, aged the pages of my dictionary by a few years. I wonder how people, while reading, deal with words that are not familiar. As for myself, I use several techniques: If the story captivates me – if there is a lot of suspense, I tend to skip over unfamiliar words as long as I can keep the meaning of the story intact. Sometimes, I can glean the meaning of the word by its association within the subject matter and its use within the sentence. In fact, that is how I built most of my vocabulary. For example, I was watching a TED Talk that hosted Mr. Forbes who was talking about how people form coalitions with members who may not like each other. He used the word, antipathy a number of times. His use of the word made it quite clear that antipathy meant a dislike for another person. So, without having to look the word up, I learned a new word simply by experiencing its use. But my understanding of this word is very shallow. Looking the word up, I discovered that antipathy is a deep seeded, instinctive dislike toward anything – like, some people have an antipathy toward snakes, or spiders. Some people have an antipathy toward people with a different skin color, or a different culture, or religion. Instead of bigotry, and prejudice, I now can color this subject slightly different by using the word antipathy. The word prejudice is simply a preference of one thing over another, but antipathy … in that word is an element of fear and hate. This is a new perspective. Forget prejudice, how do we deal with antipathy? Such is the power of words, and a more robust vocabulary. To my shame, my vocabulary is rudimentary – Im terrible with crossword puzzles, and most of my words were learned through experiencing their use – nothing scholastic. How often are you confronted with unfamiliar words while reading? How do you deal with them?
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I deal with unfamiliar words in a very similar way that you do! I tend to use context clues when I can. Most unfamiliar words I come across are from books that I am reading and the one thing I hate more than not knowing the definition is not knowing the correct pronunciation! So I have a dictionary app on my phone so I can quickly look up definitions and pronunciations anywhere I go!
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I deal with unfamiliar words in a very similar way that you do! I tend to use context clues when I can. Most unfamiliar words I come across are from books that I am reading and the one thing I hate more than not knowing the definition is not knowing the correct pronunciation! So I have a dictionary app on my phone so I can quickly look up definitions and pronunciations anywhere I go!


That is why I have become so attached to my E-reader. While reading a physical book, I must put the book down, pick up a dictionary, find the word and study it - then find my place in my book before I am able to continue. What a hassle! In the E-reader, all I have to do is touch the word, and I get its definition, its pronunciation and I can even store the word in a folder for further review. This makes reading more fun.
I suspect most people learn new words by way of context clues, but that doesnt build a very deep understanding of the word. I remember Roth using the word truant while describing a man who must have been in his 40s. It stopped me cold. Truant is a word I have always associated with skipping school. Why would he use this word to describe a character that is obviously out of school? It turns out truant can also mean someone who shirks his duties - a layabout - who would have guessed? Roth was a difficult read for me because his mastery of the English language is so far beyond my own. I question if he has an eidetic memory, and did he read Merriam-Webster from cover to cover? ..... eidetic .... a word I learned by watching the TV series, The Big Bang Theory. God help me!
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Any of Cormac McCarthys books should come with a glossary. Seriously. You need to have a dictionary beside you when you read his books. I swear, I think the guy stays up nights looking for obscure words to put into his novels.

To answer the question: Duh! I look them up in a dictionary. Actually, sometimes, even to this day, I spend an hour or so from time to time looking for words I dont know in a dictionary and then copy the word and its definition into a file for later memorization. This process works pretty well for improving ones vocabulary. I learned it in grammar school with an outstanding teacher of reading who would post 10 new vocabulary words on the front chalkboard each day. We would write them down and then look them up for homework. Then, on Friday, we would have a quiz on 20 of the 40 we had looked up during the week. A very good system for learning new words!
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Any of Cormac McCarthys books should come with a glossary. Seriously. You need to have a dictionary beside you when you read his books. I swear, I think the guy stays up nights looking for obscure words to put into his novels.

To answer the question: Duh! I look them up in a dictionary. Actually, sometimes, even to this day, I spend an hour or so from time to time looking for words I dont know in a dictionary and then copy the word and its definition into a file for later memorization. This process works pretty well for improving ones vocabulary. I learned it in grammar school with an outstanding teacher of reading who would post 10 new vocabulary words on the front chalkboard each day. We would write them down and then look them up for homework. Then, on Friday, we would have a quiz on 20 of the 40 we had looked up during the week. A very good system for learning new words!


Hi DATo ... what I find interesting is that learning a language is a life-long endeavor. I may learn a new word, but if I dont use it, it will eventually be forgotten to confound me later. I remember kids in my school who made Latin as part of their curriculum. I wonder if those lessons in Latin influenced their vocabulary later in life. My vocabulary relies on repetition. I wonder if there are folks out there that use a more analytical method to build their vocabulary.
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I love learning new words, whether from books or listening to an intelligent conversation in a panel on TV. I jot down the word and quickly look it up while the context of the conversation is still fresh in my mind. As has been noted, looking it up gives me a deeper and broader understanding of the word.
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Welcome to the forum, tempebrown! Im with you. Learning a new word can present a new perspective. Even more fun, a new word can serve as confirmation to feelings that Ive never expressed.
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When I was younger I had trouble comprehending what i was reading. My dad made me get a book, Black Beauty, I love horses. Sat me down with my book and one of the old hard copy dictionaries. If I didnt understand, know how to pronounce or know the meaning I had to look it up. Now I absolutely love to read anything i can get my hands on.
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Thanks, DennisK. Glad to be in the forum...glad to be a part of this group. Ill never forget reading a book (wish I could remember the name of it) about Judy Garland. The author wrote something like, And she stood there, arms akimbo... Akimbo? I never heard that word before, so had to look it up and found it was something I did often!

BookLover2015bra, you were blessed to have a dad make you read. And look at you now! How wonderful!
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Yes tempebrown I am very fortunate to have my dad. He has the same love of reading.
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Thats awesome! My dad was a lawyer and later became a judge. He was always a bottom line person. I remember him always saying to me, So whats your point? It was like he was saying, State your case. So he inadvertently taught me to not waste words. I try not to waste words in my writing. There is always a better way of saying something...a perfect word, if you will, and sometimes its a word that were not altogether familiar with. Its good to look them up and give them a try.
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I expect people involved with Law, especially trial lawyers and judges, have a robust vocabulary due to their exposure to Latin. Many of our words have a Greek and/or Latin origin, and I suspect someone familiar with these languages, find it easer to build a large vocabulary. This is only a suspicion of mine as I have never studied these languages. Never-the-less, it seems most of us build our vocabulary through disciplined study of our native language. But then some people simply find new words to be fun - they go looking for them.
I just wonder if the study of Latin in High School is profitable.
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Finding and looking up new words or expressions has always been one of the many attractions of reading for me. To this day I love books that have me reading with a dictionary to hand (or these days Google!).
We were taught as kids, by both parents and teachers, that if you dont understand a word you go look it up and then put it in a sentence of your own. I remember competitions making up sentences using obscure words - the sentences generally becoming incrimentally ridiculous but a great way to imbed new words in the brain.
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Context clues are the first thing I use to try to get a sense of the work. Then I look at how its written and try to figure out its origin. If I cant figure it out, I look it up if I can be bothered.
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If i found some unfamiliar word i would like to know the meaning of the word. you will get more knowledge by reading more books.
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