Monday, March 11, 2013

Polish Your Vocabulary

Lawyers and law students spend most of their time using words—reading, writing, or speaking. And so it is important to know words, including subtle differences in meaning. I'm talking about a general English vocabulary, not just legal terms of art, like "certiorari" and "trespass on the case." 

When you're reading cases and law review articles, do you find yourself skimming past some words, hoping the context will help you understand the passage? Do you ever mix up "discrete" and "discreet"? How about "sanguine" and "sanguinary"? Or "imply" and "infer"? logo is a terrific site. It has a very fast dictionary and lots of tools for helping you learn words. AND it has NO ADS!

One tool offers is The Challenge, a games that gives you multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions.  If you guess right, you get a cheery message ("Nice work!"). If you don't, you get another chance, and another. You can also ask for hints—either having the program eliminate two wrong answers or give you a sample sentence. When you don't get a word on the first try, the system remembers it, so you'll get a review later. After a while, a lot of people get hooked on the challenge of trying just one more word to see their scores go up.  If you register, you can keep track of your progress over time. You can even compete against your Facebook friends., The Challenge (screen shot)

In addition to The Challenge, you can use vocabulary lists. There are lots of lists that are already put together, at different levels of difficulty. There are lists for famous speeches (e.g., Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech, a speech by Nelson Mandela) and lists for literature (e.g., Walden, The Great Gatsby). Law-related lists include those with words from:
You can create lists of your own, too, either by entering words one at a time or copying and pasting text from another source.

Here's another nice feature: has an audio link so you can hear how words are pronounced. This is really handy if you've read a word but aren't quite sure how to say it. Better to learn it from than try it out for the first time in oral argument!

The more I use this site, the more I like it.
The only tool of the lawyer is words. We have no marvelous pills to prescribe for our patients. Whether we are trying a case, writing a brief, drafting a contract, or negotiating with an adversary, words are the only things we have to work with.
— Charles Alan Wright
Charles Alan Wright, Book Review, Townes Hall Notes (U. Texas Law School alumni magazine), Spring 1988, at 5 (reviewing Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage). (Wright used the same passage in Charles Alan Wright, Foreword, in Bryan A. Garner, The Elements of Legal Style vii, viii (1991).)

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