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CONTEXT & DEFINITION

May 28th, 2020

This episode is dedicated to Anne-Laure, creator of Nesslabs which is an online community that focuses on mindful productivity.

 

Even within a native tongue, there are words that we continually forget or mix up; words that sound similar and perhaps mean similar things.  For example, effect and affect don’t just share most of their letters, the meanings are so close that the definition of one includes the other.  Perhaps even more problematic is the fact that these two words are hard to distinguish in speech, and without written language it’s possible that many people would never realize that two words exist.

 

Strive and thrive might pose a similar problem.  Is someone who is striving not also thriving?  Or rather, if someone is thriving is it not also because they strive for accomplishment?  The words are quite similar, though one can have an object.  You can strive to accomplish a goal.  You can’t thrive for something in particular.  Thriving is a quality of state, an indication of general fitness.  As a writer I am striving to get a certain point across.

 

When students learn vocabulary in school, they are usually asked to do two things: memorize the definition, and use the word in a sentence.

 

But why?

 

One is the theory, the other is the practice.

 

It seems that in most all areas of life, there exists a gulf between theory and practice that we continually need to bridge.  It’s one thing to be shown how to do something.  It’s quite another to do it yourself. The definition of a word is just common theory regarding how most people use the word and why.  Putting that word into an original sentence creates a context for the word, and constitutes, of course, the practice of language.

 

Context seems to have a far more powerful affect on our memory.  We are a species operates based on a story.  We think in stories, we remember using stories.  This is why the definition of a word can be so frail for our memory.  It might be why we can end up checking the definition many times without ever really learning it.

 

Our memory of a particular word thrives and our ability to use it flourishes when it exists in a strong context, when we can remember a story that wraps around it.  Without this context, we can struggle and strive endlessly, and to no good end by simply looking up the word over and over.  Our memory of a word thrives when we strive to use it in a strong context.

 


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