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May 2024
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A Word About the Word of the Day

Choose a term that is challenging but also accessible.

By Bill Brown, DTM

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Have you ever stopped to consider the life span of a Word of the Day? Does it last until the end of your meeting before it is forgotten? Does it last until the end of Table Topics®? Or does it last only as long as it takes to announce what it is?

Shouldn’t it have a life after the meeting ends?

In theory, we select a Word of the Day to expand our vocabulary. More times than not, at least in my observation, it is merely something we do because we always have. All too often, it is not even used by anyone.

Why not? One reason is that it may not be a priority for the club. Some clubs require using it to win Best Table Topics Speaker. Others just want the word to be used and the use reported on, but they don’t really care if you do or don’t. It’s just there.

Personally, I usually forget to use the Word of the Day. I remember it only when the grammarian gives the report at the end of the meeting.

The word also might be ignored because it’s not easy to use in a sentence. In one of my first meetings, the Word of the Day was garbology, the study of an ancient culture by the study of its garbage dump. I did use it, although it was a stretch. Granted, after all those years, I still remember it, but I can assure you I don’t use it in everyday conversation—or any other conversation, for that matter.

What, then, makes for a good Word of the Day?

I suggest the word should stretch our vocabulary. But stretch it how? If you select a fancy word like acidulate, asseveration, or contumelious, would anyone use it? Probably not. But if they did, they would most likely butcher the pronunciation. Does anyone really learn a word they can’t pronounce? I suspect not.

The words listed in the above paragraph are not easy to say. Better to choose a word that is easy to say and whose meaning is easy to understand. And make it a word that has a high probability of being used in the outside world but is not necessarily common.

I find it best to select an adjective. It can frequently be applied in several situations. A verb can also be used. A noun, on the other hand, can often be so specific that it has limited use.

Where, then, do you get ideas for
the Word of the Day? One place is . It has a Word of the Day right on its homepage. Other dictionary websites may help as well.

I do a lot of reading. When I discover an interesting word or one I don’t know, I type it into a document on my computer. I then look up the word in the dictionary, logging its definition next to its listing. I have well over 1,000 words on my list. When I am responsible for the Word of the Day, I merely go and select one from there.

But how to make that word last for more than a fleeting moment? Perhaps we can issue a reminder during the club meeting of the word used in the previous two meetings. The grammarian can count and report the use of any/all three words at the end of the meeting. That might develop a habit of usage.

Granted, some words aren’t going to gain traction regardless of how many times you mention them. Garbology might be one of them. Surprising, I know! When that happens, make a note of it and don’t use words like that in the future. Or maybe if a word is not well used, the grammarian can ask the club why not. That could get members thinking about what makes a great word.

And I don’t remember ever hearing a General Evaluator comment on the effectiveness of the Word of the Day. Shouldn’t it at least get honorable—or dishonorable—mention?

I firmly believe that the Word of the Day can be a much more valuable part of the meeting than it is right now. Let’s make that happen.

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