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April 2024
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A Word of the Week to the Wise

How to find a suitable word and make it last.

By Kalle Lundahl, ACB, CL

An essential part of any Toastmasters meeting is the “Word of the Day.” I prefer to call this the “Word of the Week,” since if you use the word for only one day or one meeting, it is likely that you will not incorporate it into everyday conversation. To increase the word’s usage, I recommend that the grammarian spread the word to all members in advance so they can begin to use it immediately and include it, for instance, in their prepared speeches.

The Word of the Week should not be confused with the theme of the meeting, although, preferably, they will go hand in hand. Let us presume that the theme is “learning becomes leading.” The Word of the Week should be related to this theme, but it shouldn’t be an easy word, like leader, because the point of the word is to improve our vocabulary by having it be a relatively uncommon word. Something more appropriate could be the word jaunty because a leader should be cheerful and confident in their manner, exactly what the word jaunty means.

Let me share with you a personal experience indicating what you should not do: In 2015, soon after joining Toastmasters, I selected the word tmesis (pronounced “to me sis”— think about “to me, sister”) which comes from the Greek word tm ē sis meaning “cutting.” Tmesis is a linguistic phenomenon in which a word or phrase is separated into two parts, with other words inserted in between them, for instance in the phrase “TURN the light OFF.” Why was my choice of this word not a good one? Well, because you cannot use tmesis in everyday conversation!

What I find smart is to choose a word that can be both an adjective and a noun, because members will thus learn two meanings of the same word.

How, then, will you find a suitable word? You can do a Google search for: “Adjectives relating to leadership” or whatever the theme of the meeting is. Another good way is to sign up for the newsletter “Word of the Day” from Oxford Dictionaries.

When I want a definition of a word, I Google “Oxford (dictionary)” along with the word, because I find this is the best way to find a more precise definition. Don’t take my word for it: In The Etymologicon (2011, p. 146), author Mark Forsyth says: “The Oxford English Dictionary is the greatest work of reference ever written.”

Adjectives and adverbs are smarter

I agree with the advice given in the October 2015 issue of Toastmaster magazine (p. 3): “The best thing you can do is to concentrate on adjectives and adverbs. A greater vocabulary of adjectives and adverbs will give you a deeper knowledge of varieties and characteristics of words. […] In short, you’ll be smarter.”

Smarter? Well, we all wish to at least seem smarter, so let us therefore use adjectives and adverbs because they will give us more fine-tuned descriptions. One word of caution: Even though one article, titled “11 amazing words we should be using,” recommends the adjective “callipygian,” it may not be an appropriate choice for a Toastmasters meeting: It means “having beautiful buttocks.”

What I find smart is to choose a word that can be both an adjective and a noun, because members will thus learn two meanings of the same word. One example of such a word is sanguine, which as a noun means “a blood-red color,” and as an adjective, “optimistic.” Other words can be both nouns and verbs, such as slog. A sample sentence is, “Although it will be a slog to move the World Headquarters, Toastmasters members are sanguine about its future location in Denver, Colorado, because they hope to find gold there.”

In conclusion, here is my proposed checklist for selecting the Word of the Week: 1. Relate it to the meeting theme. 2. Concentrate on adjectives that are uncommon but not overly obscure. 3. Distribute the word to members well before the meeting. 4. Subscribe to the Oxford ­Dictionaries newsletter. 5. Use it and help us enrich our language.


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