When I was in the fourth grade, my friends and I had a great time saying “antidisestablishmentarianism” to each other since it was the longest word any of us had ever heard of. Of course we had no idea what it meant, although it seemed to be “anti” something. When my daughter and her friends were young they enjoyed saying the word from the movie Mary Poppins: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious with the same glee.
Vocabulary skills were stressed throughout school and were seen as a reflection of one’s aptitude for college in the SAT tests. Some students took vocabulary building classes or bought books on increasing your vocabulary. Those practices seemed odd to me since I thought my vocabulary was mainly a reflection of all the reading I had done. The only drawback from learning words by sight alone was that occasionally I would mispronounce a word I had only ever seen but never heard. In a movie yesterday, for instance, a woman pronounced “Persephone” as per-se-phone(as in telephone.) The same mistakes show up as I listen to some audio books.
At some point I stopped acquiring new words except neologisms such as “meme” or “byte.” The words that I never really grasped continue to elude me when I encounter them in crossword puzzles. Avow and aver trip me up continually. I mastered eponym only after many clues about a stadium in Queens, New York.(Ashe) As for apotheosis, I still turn to the dictionary. I am not sure why words never cemented in early life fail to take root now.
And crossword puzzles? While they are supposed to stave off dementia I think they really only develop the ability to do crossword puzzles! A useful skill, for sure, but not essential for most people. Yours truly excepted!