In terms of vocabulary development, we were all little geniuses in childhood, learning hundreds of new words every year. By the time we entered first grade, most of us had active vocabularies of several thousand words.
But we weren't geniuses for very long. By age 11 or 12, equipped with a sizable survival vocabulary, we lost some of our early enthusiasm for language, and the rate at which we picked up new words began to decline significantly. As adults, if we don't make deliberate efforts to increase our vocabularies, we're lucky to pick up even 50 or 60 new words a year.
The English language has so much to offer (at least half a million words by most reckonings) that it would be a shame to let our vocabulary-building talents go to waste. So here's one way that we can regain some of our youthful brilliance: learn a new word each day.
Whether you're a student preparing for the SAT, ACT, or GRE, or simply an unabashed logophile (or lover of words), starting each day with a fresh word can be intellectually nourishing--and more enjoyable than a bowl of All-Bran.
Here are three of our favorite daily word sites: all are free and available through e-mail subscriptions.
Now in its 16th year, A.Word.A.Day at Wordsmith.org is the creation of Anu Garg, an India-born computer engineer who clearly enjoys sharing his pleasure in words. Simply designed, this popular site (over a million subscribers) offers concise definitions and examples of words that relate to a different theme every week. The New York Times has called this "the most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass e-mail in cyberspace." Recommended for all word lovers.
For many of us, the Oxford English Dictionary is the ultimate reference work, and the OED Word of the Day provides a complete entry (including a wealth of illustrative sentences) from the 20-volume dictionary. You can sign up to have the OED's Word of the Day delivered by e-mail or RSS web feed. Recommended for scholars, English majors, and logophiles.
Less expansive than the OED site, the daily word page hosted by this U.S. dictionary-maker offers an audio pronunciation guide along with basic definitions and etymologies. The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is also available as a podcast, which you can listen to on your computer or MP3 player. Recommended for high school and college students as well as advanced ESL students.
Other Daily Word Sites
These sites should also be useful to high school and college students.