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What's a Word Worth?

In my previous blog I mentioned twenty-five cent words and dollar words, and how learning new words enhances your writing and expands your vocabulary. My current student, "Kyle," is very good about researching new words and building his vocabulary. He knows that he should look up an unfamiliar word in the dictionary and if he doesn't understand the definition, we review it together. One day he had "mediocre" as a spelling word, and it was the first time he heard it. When he discovered the meaning, he said, "That's a good word, I'm going to start using it! I don't want to be a mediocre student." [And for those readers who haven't yet checked the definition of mediocre, it means "of ordinary or undistinguished quality, average.]

The difference between a twenty-five cent word and a dollar word is like the difference between store brand and name brand snacks. Which do you prefer to eat--A&P brand potato chips, or Lay's potato chips? Store brand/no name ice cream, or Ben & Jerry's ice cream?

Imagine you're having a conversation with a friend and he/she asks what you think of a new computer game or song. If you weren't thrilled about it, you could respond that it as "so-so," just OK, or average. BUT, if you responded that you thought it was mediocre, your friend may not be familiar with the word and you could tell them it's another way of saying something's ordinary or average. Do you "see" the difference between saying the game/song is just ordinary/average (the twenty-five cent word) and mediocre (the dollar word)? Mediocre expresses your strong feeling that the game/song isn't all that great, and your friend can skip it and spend their time on something more worthwhile. And now hopefully your friend will want to start using "mediocre" too!