How to build a better vocabulary

Image source: Pixabay

Saying more with less means the words you choose have to work harder, which means you need to find the best words for the communication job.

When it comes to finding the right word, those of you in my primarily English-speaking audience have lots of options. According to Paul Payack of the Global Language Monitor, the English language exceeded one million words back in 2009. Yet most of us get lazy, returning to the same words and phrases over and over.

Following are a few tools and tips to help you navigate the world of words and find exactly what you need to communicate clearly and succinctly.

Best resources for finding the right word

Your personal vocabulary

Cooks are limited by what’s in their pantry. Artists are limited by their art supplies. Writers and speakers are limited by their vocabularies. If your vocabulary is lacking, your communications will be lacking. But that’s easy to fix by adding more words.

How to build your personal vocabulary:

  • There’s an app for that—consider or Merriam Webster Apps.
  • Replenish your word stock with a daily email from Merriam-Webster, or the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • When you come across a word you don’t know, look it up—especially if you’re reading online, since it takes only a few extra seconds. Simply select the word and search on it, which will usually result in the definition at the top of the page. Or, install a browser extension that will allow you to get the definition as you read. Chrome users can check out Google Dictionary for this option.


You go to a dictionary when you need to look up the meaning of a word. You go to a thesaurus to find synonyms and antonyms and view your word options for whatever you want to communicate, as well as other considerations like cadence and style. is almost always an open tab on my browser bar.

Image source: Pixabay

Jargon and slang

Industry jargon and casual slang are vocabularies of their own, yet conventional communication wisdom advises against using them.

I say, sometimes slang and jargon should be used. If you are a physicist addressing other physicists, of course you should speak the language that physicists know and speak. Would a German talk to other Germans in Swedish? The rule about avoiding jargon applies when your audience includes people outside of your industry, who don’t speak your language. And in any case, it’s best not to overdo it, and if necessary, explain what it means.

Same goes with slang. Sometimes casual language is appropriate, and it certainly can be descriptive. Depending on your audience and the context, a slang word or expression could be perfect. Or it could land you in a perfect storm of confusion or controversy. Err on the side of caution so you don’t leave your audience feeling confused or offended.

Jargon and slang dictionaries

NetLingo claims to contain “thousands of definitions that explain the online world of business, technology, and communication, including the largest list of text and chat acronyms.”

For the latest on slang, Urban Dictionary is full of sayings and buzz words that are becoming part of modern, English-speaking culture, though be aware that it’s also filled with crude language and examples.

Other useful resources include The Online Slang Dictionary and Wordspy for new words, like Uberization.

If you want to say more with less, you need a vocabulary that gives you access to the most descriptive, appropriate words for any communication situation. I hope these resources and ideas help.