The average native English speaking person has a vocabulary of 20,000 words. The average college graduate has about 40,000 words in their lexicon. If taken as a whole, the average person in the U.S. has between 20,000 and 35,000 words at their disposal. Even with all these words available, 95% of common speech and media usage only encompasses 3000 words. Of all the words that come out of our mouths, 95% of them come from a pool of just 3000.
In other words, if 95% of what we say is comprised of simple words that everyone knows and uses, why isn’t there, generally, 95% understanding? An old German proverb said “God is in the details”, but in the 1990s, this phrase was bastardized to “the devil is in the details”. According to The Idioms
dictionary, this implies that if you do not concentrate on the details of something you may run into unexpected problems. It can also mean that problems on large projects can often be attributed to small mistakes that were overlooked – and many of these problems and mistakes can be attributed to poor communications.
What I take from this is the 5% that is absent from those 3000 words is what often makes or breaks our communications. I like to call this 5% our “augmented vocabulary”. According to Merriam-Webster augmented can be defined as “to make greater…, or more intense”.
Our augmented vocabulary is most often used in industry specific interactions, or in more general explanatory communications. For now, let's focus on the later, or general communications. The type you would have with a client, prospective customer, or a business associate. In these situations, you are more likely attempting to persuade someone, educate them, or explain an idea or concept.
I think it’s safe to say that we have all been in the situation where we have attempted to explain, defend, or support something but we failed because we just couldn’t make ourselves understood. Or we’ve written an email that was spectacularly mis-interpreted.
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt" - Abraham Lincoln
A better vocabulary allows us to not only avoid mis-communication, but it also improves our reading comprehension, writing skills, and confidence. It allows us to express ourselves with clarity and to avoid the “devil is in the details” failures.
In most instances, our vocabulary plateaus once we leave school. However, to be successful in business, vocabulary is an over-looked but vital tool that we need to hone and keep sharp.
1. Read, read, read – the more you read, the more words you’re exposed to.
2. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy. When you encounter a new word, don’t just skip over it – look it up.
3. Use a journal. Keep a list of new words you discover and refer back to the journal so you can start to build them into your vocabulary.
4. Learn a word a day. There are calendars and websites you can use.
5. Go back to your roots. One of the most powerful tools for learning new words and for deciphering the meaning is studying the Latin and Greek roots.
6. Play some games. Word games, crossword puzzles, anagrams, scrabble, etc.
7. Engage in conversations and remember to jot down any new words you hear so you look them up later.
With an augmented vocabulary, your ability to communicate with clarity and alacrity will be enhanced. Whether in personal interactions or a business setting, an augmented vocabulary will allow you to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings - which can cost money and time. Two things you can't afford to lose.