11.27.2007

Don't click here if you have work to finish.

Well, not there, exactly, but here, on freerice.com. It works on the same principle as those sites that promise to cure breast cancer, etc. (Do you remember those? I think from the late 1990s?) You click, they charge advertisers per page view (and more per click-through), and the proceeds, minus overhead, buy rice for poor people.

But that's not what's fun about it. No. What's fun about it is that you get to test your vocabulary skills. You get harder words in response to correct answers and easier words in response to incorrect answers. Sort of like the new, computer-based GRE. (Or so I hear. I've never taken it.) You also get a score between 1 and 50. Apparently it's very, very difficult to get above a 48. The difficulty of words is constantly revised depending on how many people define them correctly.

If you like big words, and like trying to figure out what words mean based on their presumptive roots, and are highly competitive--like I am--then this can keep you busy for hours on end. Not that I've spent hours on it today. Not at all. There is no time limit, so you can go back to it as time allows. You feel sort of noble for using your down time at work to improve your vocabulary and help feed the poor.

I got as high as 44, but am now hovering around 40. I definitely used some sort of intelligent guessing on many of the words, mostly based on some clearly related word that I was more familiar with. I am constantly surprised by how many strange words I've picked up over the year from reading old English translations of Tanach [the Bible]. Most of these words I know from reading. God only knows where I learned was a cuspidor was, but I somehow do. (Little House on the Prairie, perhaps? I think that's how I knew what eider was.) I got ambuscade right only because I guessed that it was related to the word "ambush." You can't be too picky, though. Does periphrasis really mean "circumlocution"? I chose circumlocution because periphrasis sounds too much like peripatetic to not mean something like "walking around," which I only know from History 10a in college, when we had to read some Aristotle. A "bodega" is most certainly not a "wineshop," but that was clearly the correct choice. [Ha! I just looked it up, and it is a wineshop! It's just that everyone I know uses it like the third definition here, like the American equivalent of the Israeli makolet. People also call such stores "delis" here in New York, which threw me at first.]

The definitions from which you get to choose are quite expansive/blurry, so you have just pick the best and go with it, even if you know that they aren't exactly the same thing. This also helps me get things right that I otherwise would not. You don't have to use the words in a sentence, for example, which would be much more difficult.

Another thing I noticed, which I also noticed when I took the SAT, is that I tend to have a very immediate feeling that a word is either a "good word" or a "bad word." I have a sense that a word expresses something negative or something positive much more often than I can correctly define it, and also much more quickly than I can define it, even for words with which I am pretty familiar.

I think I can raise my score a few points if I slow down rather than clicking through quickly. I was trained to take standardized tests as quickly as possible and then go back to work on the hard parts, so it's hard for me to take the time to stop and think when I'm not immediately sure. Also, I'm used to trying to outsmart the test-makers, so if something seems too obvious to be the right answer, I choose something else. Sometimes test-makers aren't trying to trick test-takers, and sometimes they are.

I've given away 1560 grains of rice so far.

Ahem...and now, back to work!

2 comments:

ALG said...

Ha ha! I just got up to 46!

miriam said...

"God only knows where I learned was a cuspidor was, but I somehow do."
i learned this from my mother, who sang a song (a spoof of some other famous song whose name i don't know):

o theodora
don't spit on the floor-a
use a cuspidor-a
that's what it's for-a

i've only gotten up to a 40 though. i am not as literate as many suppose...