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Increasing Your Vocabulary on National Dictionary Day

By Bianca Smith • October 16, 2017

October 16 is National Dictionary Day - a booklover’s dream day. No, we’re not going to proclaim the differences between Merriam-Webster and Oxford. Did you know that reading increases your vocabulary? Yes, it does and not just from reading nonfiction books or the classics like Ulysses. From regular fiction, such as A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Don’t take our word for it (we are biased anyway).

In 2013 Emory University compared the brains of people after they read fiction to the brains of people who didn’t read. MRI scans were used to measure activity while reading Robert HarrisPompeii over nine nights.

The brains of the readers showed more activity in the left temporal cortex than those who didn’t read—the part of the brain typically associated with understanding language. While this doesn’t exactly prove an increased vocabulary, the active part of the brain definitely leads us to think so.

Then another study directly confirms bigger vocabularies. An independent American-Brazilian research project wanted to specifically test if reading fiction increased people’s vocabulary, and they happily announced it does. “…it makes sense, after all, considering that fiction tends to use a greater variety of words than non-fiction does. However, we hadn’t expected its effect to be this prominent.”

So if your aim is to increase your vocabulary you can read a dictionary from cover-to-cover but we recommend curling up with a novel.

Recommended Fiction for Increasing your Vocabulary

The Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

JK Rowling’s use of the word fug caused confusion when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released. It wasn’t a typo, fug is similar to fog and joins flibbertigibbet (a gossipy, flighty person) and chortle (laugh quietly or with restraint) as non-spell words used in the wizarding world.

His Dark Materials series - Philip Pullman

Laboriously, thronged, and dais are all included in Philip Pullman’s politically strife saga. This winter will you tell your friends how you laboriously traveled through the snow to meet them?

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

Who would have thought the same book that makes you quake at the sight of a carnival trailer would introduce you to effulgence, ganglion, declamation, and tremulous.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

You were probably forced to read this in high school. It wasn’t just for the dystopian issues and character development that made for countless class discussions, it was also the vocabulary.

The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck

John Steinbeck’s smooth writing style and engaging characters make The Grapes of Wrath a very accessible read, and you won’t notice the new words you’re learning.

Ulysses - James Joyce

So this doesn’t meet the “everyday read” criteria, but with 30,300 unique words, it’s considered one of the most difficult fiction books to read. Accept the challenge if you dare.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

We felt we should end with a dictionary, after all, it is National Dictionary Day. Keep this on-hand to check the definitions of all your new words.

What’s your favorite book to increase your vocabulary?

Read more by Bianca Smith

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