Tame the thesaurus

Drizzle, downpour, shower, hail, sleet, torrent, rainstorm, cloudburst, pour, cats-and dogs. The English language has a multitude of synonyms for rain (little wonder, given how much it rains in England).

This vibrant vocabulary helps us understand rain better. When I think about a drizzle, my brain creates very different imagery than if somebody told me they were caught in a torrent. If I knew only one word for precipitation, my imagination, and therefore, my understanding of what it means would be limited.

A shortcut to understanding a new discipline quickly is to internalize the rich vocabulary it uses. Take bouldering – a sport where people scale surfaces using supports on them. The various holds used by climbers are called slopers, jugs, pockets, crimps, pinches, underclings, matching hands, side pulls and gastons. Yet, for a non-climber, all these are merely holds. Recognizing each of those holds takes you a little closer to climbing them better.

To understand a concept deeper, tease out the differences between the various synonyms in its domain.

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