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1500 Words in 15 Minutes a Day: Your Week-by-Week Plan for a Perfect Vocabulary McGraw-Hill, 2005

Know What You're Talking About

Hey, you can't live without words. They're like water and food and sex. Basic needs. So why not accumulate as many words as you can?

My mother was a very smart woman who wanted her children to be smart. She, along with her own mother, was among the rare college-educated women born before 1920. Married to my father, a cattle rancher whose family had homesteaded property on the West Texas plains, my mother found little to stimulate her in her daily environment, so she was left to her own devices.

Her intellectual devices were many and unpredictable. The small-town school that I attended was not the most sophisticated. The football coach taught history; the local piano teacher taught English. When, in the 6th grade, I came home talking about studying SO-crates and ARIS-to-tole, my mother was flabbergasted. "Your teachers are fine people," she said, after recovering her speech, "but sometimes they are asked to teach subjects that they haven't studied very closely. You are going to become an autodidact."

"An auto-what?"

"An autodidact, a person who teaches him- or herself. Sometimes this is the best way to learn -- because you're curious, you're motivated, and you need to know, so you teach yourself."

"But I'm not curious, I'm not motivated, and I don't need to know. I want to go out and play."

The next day, Mother lugged home a huge book, along with a rotating stand for it to sit on. "This is the world's best dictionary," she said. "When you hear, or see, or read a word that you don't know, come to this book and look it up. Write three sentences using that word. While you're at it, look at the word above it and the one below it. Study their meanings and write three sentences using those words. After that, the words will be yours forever."

I did the usual whining about this new assignment, but it got me nowhere. "The way a person uses the language is the first sign to others of that person's intelligence, class, sensibility, and ambition," she said.

Well, that covers a whole lot, I thought. Maybe I'd better listen to her for once. In 1500 Words in 15 Minutes a Day, I offer you a chance to practice what my mother preached. She was right. Now, I rarely come across a word I don't know. And when I do, I hot foot it to the dictionary. There is no self-esteem booster like knowing what you're talking about.

Words are the basic tool of our culture, just as hammer and nails are the basic tools of a house builder. You simply have to have them, and the more expert you are with them, the more successful you will be. In 1500 Words, you'll find some of those basic words -- words everyone needs to build a literate life. Students studying for the SAT's will find it helpful, as will business and professional people. Or if you just find words fascinating, dip into it -- and you'll get hooked.

The book functions more as a thesaurus than a dictionary. Words are categorized: Part I gives you the terms and concepts you need for discussing the liberal arts -- art, architecture, music, philosophy, psychology, drama, fiction, poetry, mythology, the Bible. Think of this: You're going to interview for a job and you've heard that the boss collects art. You don't know flip about art, and you need a starter course. Look here under Art, and you’ll find some ideas to impress your boss-to-be.

Words are fun and funny too. Look under Weird Words. You'll get a kick out of them and learn where they came from and why we use them. The book also contains 365 days-worth of word trivia. Trivia? You say. Trifles? Hardly. The word comes from the Latin trivium, the place where three roads meet: the public square, the center of town, the mall. So, this book is a meeting place for people with knowledge, and people who need that knowledge for their everyday purposes and advancement. Shop here: The merchandise is colorful, startling, always fashionable, and one-size fits all.

You want to know Cool Words, Hot Words, Surprising Words? You've come to the right place. You'll also find Stuffed Words, Empty Words, and Not Words. (Read them and dump them! They are no good; ask for a refund.)

This book is playful, because the most savvy users of words enjoy wit -- and wit is playful; it means "to know," "to be in the know." If at any age (unlike the author as a 6th grader), you are curious, you are motivated, you do need to know, 1500 Words will play with you, surprise you, amuse you, and help you to know a good many things that you don't expect a boring old vocabulary book to do.

Become an autodidact -- now that you know what it means. It's the best way to learn a plethora of new words. (Look it up!)