What not to do when improving your vocabulary!

In 1989, I joined the Army and after completing my basic and advance individual training I ended up stationed at Fort Bragg as an Intelligence Analyst working at the Corps Tactical Operations Center and Support Element for the 18th Airborne Corp.

I was all of 20 years old, a fresh-faced, self-assured, intelligent, and at times a very naive country girl who was now working for warrant and commissioned intelligence officers as well as some very seasoned senior enlisted analysts and at times found myself having to look-up new words on a daily basis.

If you’ve every been around when I’ve told someone, “Hey it’s after 5 o’clock and that word is longer than mayonnaise, use a different word or just tell me what you mean.” that’s where it comes from–dealing with theses guys.

As a result, I used to read the dictionary and would try to incorporate new words into my daily conversations; however, this one particular day my zest for self improvement served as a humorous break in battle simulation exercise, well it was for everyone else except me.  I found out just how red my face could become from sheer embarrassment.

I briefed the 18th Airborne Corps G2, Intelligence Officer at the division level or higher, usually a Colonel, on an almost daily basis and during this exercise it was no difference, and as such I would often engage in small talk with the G2 and their staff and casual conversation wasn’t unusual.

Everyone I worked with knew I was working on my vocabulary and would often ask what word I learned that day.  It was always enjoyable and usually resulted in a personal story from their childhood. It was right after lunch and we were all returning to the work areas and as we all walked back, I was asked, “So Imel [my maiden name], tell me, what is the word of the day?” The G2 was walking with us and rather than answer my friend I turned the G2 and said, “Sir, did you have any trouble masturbating your lunch today?”

Almost as quickly as the words left my mouth I realized my error. By my question brought the group of 10-15 of us to a halt, and everyone waited for the G2’s response.  “Imel, are you sure that is the word you are working on,” he replied barely keeping his laughter to himself. You could also hear the snickers rippling through the group as people were trying not to burst out in laughter. “Sir, I am so sorry! I meant to say, “masticating your lunch today””, I responded in the most apologetic tone I could muster over my mounting embarrassment.

At this point, everyone, still not moving forward was laughing loudly and uncontrollable. I looked at the G2 and expressed my apologizes again, wishing I could just disappear from the face of the earth at that moment.  I knew I had to brief this group of folks including the G2 and the other Corps staff in less than an hour and now I wanted to just hide.  “Imel,” the G2 said, “make sure you fully understand and are comfortable with the words you are going to use, before you use them.  Just because you read something, remember you don’t always have to use it right away.”  He shook his head and chuckled, “Imel, you definitely surprise us,  we never know what you are going to say next. You weren’t planning on using this new word in your brief today were you?”  “No, Sir!, ” I said and began to walk away from the group and find my desk and regroup.

For the rest of the afternoon, I was teased relentlessly, and for months afterward, I received gifts of dictionaries, thesauri, and other books and games designed to help me improve my vocabulary. Each with some antidote about wanting to keep me from “masturbating lunches”.

However, I learned “using words longer than mayonnaise” is a good thing, but if I’m not confident in their use or it’s something I would not normally use in my daily conversation, I just need to rest securely in the knowledge that I know what it means and since that time I’ve never tried to work the word “masticate’ into another sentence ever.


2 Responses to “What not to do when improving your vocabulary!

  • jimcooncat
    13 years ago

    Funny story!

    “Each with some antidote…” actually came out better than correcting it with the word anecdote. But don’t get hung up on words, actions are more lasting.

  • akgraner
    13 years ago

    DOH 🙂 yeppers!

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