The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
GROWING A VOCABULARY
Boys flying kites haul in their white winged birds; You can't do that way when you're flying words. "Careful
with fire," is good advice we know, "Careful with words," is ten times doubly so. Thoughts unexpressed many
sometimes fall back dead; But God Himself can't kill them when they're said.
--WILL CARLETON, The First Settler's Story.
The term "vocabulary" has a special as well as a general meaning. True, all vocabularies are grounded in the
everyday words of the language, out of which grow the special vocabularies, but each such specialized group
possesses a number of words of peculiar value for its own objects. These words may be used in other
vocabularies also, but the fact that they are suited to a unique order of expression marks them as of special
value to a particular craft or calling.
In this respect the public speaker differs not at all from the poet, the novelist, the scientist, the traveler. He
must add to his everyday stock, words of value for the public presentation of thought. "A study of the
discourses of effective orators discloses the fact that they have a fondness for words signifying power,
largeness, speed, action, color, light, and all their opposites. They frequently employ words expressive of the
various emotions. Descriptive words, adjectives used in fresh relations with nouns, and apt epithets, are freely
employed. Indeed, the nature of public speech permits the use of mildly exaggerated words which, by the time
they have reached the hearer's judgment, will leave only a just impression."
Form the Book-Note Habit
To possess a word involves three things: To know its special and broader meanings, to know its relation to
other words, and to be able to use it. When you see or hear a familiar word used in an unfamiliar sense, jot it
down, look it up, and master it. We have in mind a speaker of superior attainments who acquired his
vocabulary by noting all new words he heard or read. These he mastered and put into use. Soon his
vocabulary became large, varied, and exact. Use a new word accurately five times and it is yours. Professor
Albert E. Hancock says: "An author's vocabulary is of two kinds, latent and dynamic: latent--those words he
understands; dynamic--those he can readily use. Every intelligent man knows all the words he needs, but he
may not have them all ready for active service. The problem of literary diction consists in turning the latent
into the dynamic." Your dynamic vocabulary is the one you must especially cultivate.
In his essay on "A College Magazine" in the volume, Memories and Portraits, Stevenson shows how he rose
from imitation to originality in the use of words. He had particular reference to the formation of his literary
style, but words are the raw materials of style, and his excellent example may well be followed judiciously by
the public speaker. Words in their relations are vastly more important than words considered singly.
Whenever I read a book or a passage that particularly pleased me, in which a thing was said or an effect
rendered with propriety, in which there was either some conspicuous force or some happy distinction in the
style, I must sit down at once and set myself to ape that quality. I was unsuccessful, and I knew it; and tried
again, and was again unsuccessful, and always unsuccessful; but at least in these vain bouts I got some
practice in rhythm, in harmony, in construction and coördination of parts.
I have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Sir Thomas Browne, to Defoe, to
Hawthorne, to Montaigne.
That, like it or not, is the way to learn to write; whether I have profited or not, that is the way. It was the way
Keats learned, and there never was a finer temperament for literature than Keats'.