Audio blog post by Dr. Isaacs. Click to listen and read along!

There is a huge argument to be made from the benefits of reading when trying to become an expert speller. Simply put, reading will expose you to a wide variety of words. And unlike poring over simple word lists, reading will improve your vocabulary. Why? Because you see a word in its proper context. Even if you can’t learn the exact dictionary definition of a word, you often get a clue as to what it means.

If you are an expert speller – or studying to become one – searching for bee-worthy words while reading should be a regular goal. Whatever you happen to be reading, keep a journal of words you find that catch your eye. Consider making word lists short and easily digestible. Label them with the title of the source you obtained them from. And if you’re not sure of the definition, look the word up, and write down a simple definition that you understand. You don’t need to get a letter-for-letter dictionary definition.

I recently read an article titled “Inconvenient Truths” in the latest issue of Outside, a magazine geared toward people who enjoy outdoor sports. In this article, Mark Peruzzi, a contributing editor, addressed the pros and cons of using and/or banning plastic straws. I was gratified to find a number of great words in this article, both for spelling and vocabulary.

The “Inconvenient Truths” List – the easy words

  • resoundingly: A relatively simple word, made longer and a bit more difficult with the addition of two suffixes. Words like this 12-letter word are excellent for beginner and intermediate spellers to cut their teeth on, impress friends and teachers, and build confidence.
  • palliatives: Most commonly seen as an adjective, this word surprised me. It is a plural noun. But for those who are familiar with the definition of the adjective, this word makes sense in context: “But when we stop at this level, forgoing the straw but accepting the plastic plate and wrappers, we’re just self-administering palliatives.” The definition of this word? Things that superficially appear to make a situation better, but in reality, don’t.
  • upcycled: Neat word here – and new to the dictionary, to boot! This word is not difficult to spell, but the definition may not be very evident. Basically, this word means “recycled in a way that improves on the original product.” For example, plastic bottles may be upcycled to make fleece vests.
  • pseudo: Even spellers with a basic knowledge of roots will recognize this Greek root, meaning “false.” But we use this root so regularly that it has become a word all its own. And the definition of the root pretty much equals the definition of the word too.

The “Inconvenient Truths” List – the difficult words

  • kolkhoz: Now here’s a tricky word for spellers not familiar with Russian. Look this one up…and pay close attention to the pronunciations, too! Not a common word nowadays, but in the Soviet Union, the kolkhoz was basically a collective unit of farms…in other words, an essential component of Soviet agriculture.
  • Augean: This word comes to us from a Greek myth. It originally referred to mythological stables that were indescribably filthy. (No one had cleaned them in over 30 years by some accounts.) Hercules was tasked with cleaning these stables in one day, which he accomplished by diverting a river through them. We use this word nowadays to refer to any task that is difficult and distasteful.
  • plebs: This simply means “the general population.” But note the pronunciation. There is a variant of this word – plebes – that is pronounced a different way. In effect, this is learning two words in one, and only the pronunciation will tell you which spelling to use.
  • luxe: This seemingly-simple four-letter word – also new to the dictionary – may be tricky. For starters, depending on the pronunciation, it has at least two homonyms (looks and lux). The definition – luxurious – eliminates the first homonym from consideration. But the second homonym is still in the running for those who are not familiar with its definition (a unit of illumination). Knowing that luxe is an adjective may or may not help. Plus, its status as a new word in the MWU means that it does not appear in common lists like the CWL or other bee resources at this time. Personally, I’ve seen it in print at least twice (including in the article in Outside), which means it is out there. (According to the MWU, it has been out there since 1888.) If a speller makes a link with the word deluxe, they should be fine. But if not, merely relying on word lists won’t help.

Start your word journal today…and happy studying!