Quick: Define nugatory, macerate, and ferrous, and use each in a sentence. A bit rusty on your vocabulary? You may want to brush up—-and make sure your kids do, too. As E. D. Hirsch Jr. writes in City Journal :

There’s no better index to accumulated knowledge and general competence than the size of a person’s vocabulary. Simply put: knowing more words makes you smarter. And between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart, and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.

But flashcards aren’t the way to go. Rather, “the fastest way to gain a large vocabulary . . . is to follow a systematic curriculum that presents new words in familiar contexts, thereby enabling the student to make correct meaning-guesses unconsciously.” “A large vocabulary,” Hirsch concludes, “results not from memorizing word lists but from acquiring knowledge about the social and natural worlds.”

New words in familiar contexts, acquiring knowledge about the world—-sounds like a subscription to First Things ! Just one David Bentley Hart column offers you multiple opportunities to expand your vocabulary. Whether he’s talking about lachrymose Republicans, unctuous euphemisms, effervescent seasons of celebrity, or “a kind of Aufhebung  (in the Hegelian sense),” you’re unlikely to escape “The Back Page” without needing a dictionary. If you needed just one more reason to subscribe, let this be it .

Articles by Anna Sutherland

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