Vocabulary is done as if we were training parrots, not men: rational animals.
In school, we are given lists of words which are “defined” by something similar. Abhor means hate. Counterfeit means false. Renown means fame.
I abhor such counterfeit definitions and such counterfeit methods of learning vocabulary.
When I was young, I hated such “definitions” and such exercises. If abhor means hate, then why they heck do we have another word for hate? I found that stupid and intolerable.
Such exercises are failing to teach young minds how to see differences and similarities, how to make fine distinctions, how to classify, how to form and use a proper definition, how to grasp the identity and context of concepts: concepts are treated as identifications of something concrete, instead of, as they often are, abstractions built upon abstractions built upon abstractions from things we experience directly: see, touch, hear. We need examples and concretes for our concepts, examples in context. Without them, a concept is empty.
Let’s go through a brief, partial sketch of how we should learn vocabulary.
Solon, George Washington, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Britney Spears, Bonnie & Clyde, Adolph Hitler, Che Guevara, Pol Pot are all well-known people. But there are some significant differences between them. I’d classify together Solon, Washington and Churchill; Chaplin and Spears (sorry, Charlie); Bonnie & Clyde, Hitler, Guevara, Pol Pot.
The first are well-known for their wisdom and the great, positive things they did. They are held in high esteem. They have renown.
The second are well-known for some accomplishment of theirs. They did something good or positive or enjoyed by lots of people, but they are not held in high esteem. They are famous.
The third are well-known for some bad or evil quality, or some evil deed(s) they did. They are infamous.
But notice that these classifications require us to have formed many prior concepts, such as man, human relationship, society, knowledge, evaluation, judgement, opinion, reputation, achievement, good, bad, morality.
The classifications depend on the standard used, after all. Renown says that someone is held in high esteem according to the shared standards of some group. It does not presuppose particular moral standards. So while Bonnie & Clyde are infamous to people who appreciate, to whatever degree, individual rights, and who grasp that initiating force to get what you want is wrong, Bonnie & Clyde have renown amongst thieves, or at least, I imagine, some group of thieves.
Such discussion makes clear and drives home the distinction between renown, famous, and infamous. It allows us to actually form concepts like human beings; it does not treat us as parrots. We would then understand the concept — understanding meaning that we know the essence/definition of a concept, that we can trace it back through levels of concepts to its roots in the evidence of the senses, and that we have connected/integrated the concept to all or most everything else we know. And we would more easily remember the concepts: it is easier to remember the similarities and differences amongst Washington, Chaplin, and Hitler, than it is to parrot the use of hot air called renown, famous, and infamous.
Teaching vocabulary in a rational manner is a central, critical part of rational education — and an important part, because we need to know who is really a friend, who to spend thousands of advertising dollars on, whether we should be selfish or altruistic, whether society should be capitalist or socialist.
We have yet to achieve a rational education. I envy those in the future who get it.