Lately I’ve been studying for the GRE exam. It’s…well, not very much fun, except in a perverted “My god, I’m using my brain again!” sort of way. Unfortunately (or is that fortunately?), I’m fairly confident you didn’t come to this site to read about stupid standardized tests, but bear with me.
A large chunk of the GRE comes down to having a decent vocabulary. (And by “decent” I mean “a surfeit of superfluous lexicon and onomastics”.) Now, studying for this thing has really brought home just how limited my own vocabulary is; I can talk real smart-like if need be, but then I come across something like “obstreperous” that I refuse to believe is a real word no matter how many dictionaries say otherwise. It’s unsurprising, considering the sheer plethora of sources for words out there, but what has struck me the most is the amount of “great GRE words” I did already know…as a direct result of video games.
For example, the word “maverick” – though definitely much more quotidian since the 2008 elections – has been just another word to gamers ever since Mega Man X. Words like “attributes”, “agility”, and “stamina” were common terminology long before that. Heck, a section of the book I’m using to study even has a list of uncommon secondary definitions for otherwise common words – but I bet you already know alternate definitions for “sap”, “exact”, and “pluck”, don’t you?
RPGs in particular seem suited to increasing vocabulary (they’ve got more words in ‘em, after all), but this isn’t something I’m discovering now; I think Final Fantasy VI alone did more for my vocabulary than whole years of grade school (hell, just look at Cyan’s Sword Techs, which have names like “retort” and “dispatch”). My knee-jerk reaction is to assume fifth graders are idiots that should be ignored or bullied, but then I think back to what I was playing in fifth grade and realize words like “haste” and “alchemy” were thrown around all the damn time, so…maybe I should trying having a conversation next time I’m, er, earning some lunch money.
Of course, vocabulary is an incredibly subjective thing. For one thing, it’s impossible to gauge how many dozens of words flew right by for every one that managed to bore its way into my skull. Furthermore, video games obviously aren’t the only source of obscure vocabulary, as everything from these newfangled “books” (they’re evidently like magazines, but with less pictures) to The Simpsons have taught me the occasional fancy word (to this day I know the word “specious” from the episode with the Bear Patrol and illegal immigration). But hey, our particular hobby takes a lot of abuse for promoting stupid, crass behavior, so a little pat on the back never hurt.
As a closing argument, of sorts, I’ll paste a partial list of words that – though familiar to us – are apparently considered uncommon by many adults. Check ‘em out, and in exchange I’ll do my best to make sure my next post will be about something more interesting than language. You’ll be up to your ears in tits and gore, promise.
appropriate (as in, to take)
rail (as in, to scold or berate harshly)
canon (as in, a body of principles or rules)
pirate (as in, to illegally copy)
sap (as in, to gradually diminish the supply)