Small Beginnings: Hyperpolysyllabicomia: A fondness for big words

“Hyperpolysyllabicomia is a fondness for big words.”

Isn’t that a fun word? Coming from a gal who enjoys learning new words and using them if possible, that one is a winner. I sincerely doubt that I will actually use it in a sentence. I have no idea why I would or to whom I would be speaking. Plus I have to say it v e r y slowly in order to even pretend to pronounce it. But I still love a good two dollar word.

I used to love reading the “Word Power” feature of the Reader’s Digest magazine. Perhaps I learned a few words working through those multiple choice quizzes but mainly they were a test of my current vocabulary skills. I wanted to beat the magazine and know every answer. It just mattered to me somehow. Perhaps I am a tad obsessed with words.

Contrast this interest in learning and using new and unfamiliar words to the people who, at this precise moment through no fault of their own are completely unable to even read this column, let alone complete a vocabulary quiz in a magazine.

Literacy is not merely a concern of urban centers. In our little corner of the world, we too experience the effects of illiteracy. In fact in some ways the embarrassing legacy of being functionally illiterate has been a well-kept secret for generations among rural communities where very often children in generations past were needed to work on the family farm and therefore had no opportunity to complete their education. We would like to think that such things no longer happen in the twenty first century. While young people might not be dropping out of school to work on the family farm any longer (which, I must add was an honorable profession to pursue) yet due to many circumstances including dysfunction, poverty and the shattering of the family unit, multitudes of youth are leaving school in junior high school or worse yet, falling through the cracks. In Berks County alone, fourteen percent of the population lacks the basic skills to accomplish simple tasks such as I have described above, which we generally take for granted. That equals over fifty seven thousand people, a staggering number. They are passed through the system and receive a diploma, yet cannot read a newspaper. They struggle to complete a job application and spend much of their time faking it to get through daily activities.

I have recently become personally interested in the issue of literacy as I have begun volunteering as a tutor for adults who struggle to read. This process, from being trained and meeting my student to actually starting to make lesson plans and teach has been very enlightening and challenging as well. I guess I live in quite a bubble, having previously had no clue to what extent illiteracy affected the people in my own community. I found the facts and figures to be a little shocking and they provoked me to get involved and make an impact. As a lover of words and a proponent of vocabulary growth, it seemed only natural for me to try to increase the word power of someone else who has struggled with this area of life.

I might not change the whole world, but I might make a difference in a little corner of it. And if you’ll notice my column’s theme; “Small Beginnings”, you will know that I’m all about appreciating the simple things and the incremental. Today we learn to parse a sentence. Tomorrow we might just be composing a speech or writing a memoir. There’s no limit of potential. It all starts with a small step in the right direction.

Perhaps theirs is something you can do to help in this fight as well. You might not be able to be a volunteer tutor, but perhaps you can help a child with his spelling homework or read her a poem. Expose a child to the wonders of words and be a source of inspiration to them so they never have to suffer from the handicap of illiteracy. Don’t despise the day of small beginnings!

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