Dear reader, if you haven't noticed from the posts
in this blog, I love a few boring things, e.g.,
long distance running, swimming, and weight-lifting.
In the mind game, I love collecting words.
No matter how many volumes on words and phrases I
accumulated, I still enjoy leafing through a book
about them in a library or (brick-and-mortar)
bookstore and, if allowed in the latter long
enough, eventually forking out a few bucks to buy
it. I might regret the purchase afterwards but
just couldn't help it at the moment.
Not that I have read all of them, once acquired.
Some I have never finished. My ambition to read
back-to-back the 4th edition of the American
Heritage Dictionary (over 2000 pages), e.g., stays
I keep coming back to them, however. Early in the
year and every year, there seem to be a few weeks
when I feel an urge to read about words. This year
it came for a second time as I started to help Tim
to improve his vocabulary during Thanksgiving. For
a few days, I found myself recording words from
his "1200 Words for the SSAT & ISEE" at 5:30am in
One word book led to another. This time, "Verbal
Advantage" by Charles H. Elster happened to sit on
the bookshelf at the opportune moment. It was
published in 2000 and purchased from Chapters (a
Canadian bookstore) in 2003.
To assess your vocabulary level, you are asked to
take a pretest at the beginning of the book. You
need to pick the synonym among five words for each
of the 100 test words. The difficulty level goes
up as you work toward the end. Once you are done,
you compare your answers with the answer keys and
count how many you've got right. Then you are
judged by the following standard:
90-100: Very high vocabulary.
75-89: Above-average vocabulary.
60-74: Good, but could be considerably better.
40-59: Your vocabulary should and can be stronger.
25-39: There is ample room for improvement. Apply yourself.
Below 25: It is essential that you improve your vocabulary.
I took the pretest three times over the past 14
years. In 2003, (a newly-minted PhD) I got 45
right and in 2008, 71. I think I spent some time
on the book right after buying it and that would
explain the big jump. This week I scored 78.
Progress after 2008 came from reading in general,
which only picked up after 2013. Anyway, I was
glad it didn't go downhill ;-)
I enjoyed re-discovering "Verbal Advantage" and
reading some words that made only superficial
sense way back but sometime later entered my
active vocabulary. The word "iatrogenic," e.g.,
was #29 at level 10 (the highest level). After I
learnt it from a Taleb book this year, it has stuck.