A Writer’s Vocabulary


By Kevin Spencer


Way back more decades than I’d like to count, my third-grade elementary teacher spent most of the year thoroughly exasperated with me. The points of contention with her were my English grades, especially the spelling tests she dearly loved to dispense as surprises. Personally, I think she kept a drawer full of those tests ready to pass out whenever she felt the need to slip down to the teacher’s lounge for a quick smoke. (Yeah, we’re talking THAT long ago.)


My grades were always pretty good no matter the subject, but spelling tests always tripped me up. I was a voracious reader and would have much rather been learning new words rather than laboring to learn how to spell the words I already knew. To put it simply, I would invariably get the word definitions 100 percent correct, but then would miserably fail the spelling half of the test. 


It didn’t help my situation that my father was a teacher and an assistant principal in the same school system. After a couple of phone calls, teacher to teacher, I found myself spending a lot more time in toilsome and tedious labor learning how to spell correctly. Well, that was the plan. No one could have been happier to see the advent of “Spell Check” than me. And to this day, I’d much rather learn new words than spell the ones I know. 


Any good writer needs a good vocabulary. Personally, I think it’s crucial to the smooth flow of a manuscript not to repeat nouns or verbs, or even adjectives or adverbs twice in a paragraph. A sufficient hoard of words filed away for easy retrieval is a necessity.


But that same handsome mental glossary can also trip you up. It did me. I found myself often using fifty-cent words when a dime-size word would work just as well. Showing off with a ten syllable turn-of-phrase stroked my ego, but made any semblance of flow in my writing impossible. Eventually, I figured out it was more important how a word slipped into the sentence—and how the paragraph flowed around it—than how many syllables it contained. 


To sum up:  Don’t use a big word when a singularly un-loquacious and diminutive linguistic expression will satisfactorily accomplish the contemporary necessity. 

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)



Before you use “big” words in your writing, make sure they work and don’t interrupt the flow of your story. (Click to tweet)


Kevin Spencer is a freelance writer and professional editor and is privileged to be a staff writer for Christian Devotions. He lives in Middle Tennessee with his beautiful wife Charlotte and his wonderful fourteen-year-old grandson Caleb. A former prodigal son, Kevin has been blessed beyond measure and lives a life far, far better than he deserves. 



  1. I loved reading more than any subject also. I did okay with spelling but I still didn't understand some of the spelling rules that made no sense. I before E except after C. Why have silent letters if you don't pronounce them? Who made these up anyway? Lol Thanks for sharing, Kevin.


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