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by Jayne Johnson


I’d like to acknowledge that the vocabulary to which I refer in this article is almost entirely from the English language. Although I studied Latin and Spanish in school, and English is the language I know best, I respect all languages. Language is our most common way of communicating, and it is communicating itself that matters; the language we use is secondary. However, I do want to say that the English language – with its words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently, words that are spelled the same but can have entirely different definitions, words that are spelled the same but can be used as both nouns and verbs, words that are spelled
differently but are pronounced the same, etc. etc. – may well be the most convoluted and complicated language to grasp. I deeply respect anyone who knows it, has learned it, or is committed to the process of learning it.


Robert Kiyosaki, successful author and educator, whose books have sold over 13 million copies around the world, has said,

“If you want to be rich, you have to have a rich man’s vocabulary. Words can make you rich, or can make you poor.”

Visit the Rich Dad web site and hit the “Start the Journey” button, and you will see the link for “Rich Dad’s Glossary,” a list of words and definitions pertinent to financial literacy. A definition of literacy is, “The condition or quality of being knowledgeable in a particular subject or field.”

Note: Robert has also said, “Money does not make you rich.” When Robert speaks of wealth and riches, he is referring not only to financial wealth but also to a wealth which includes (but is not limited to) freedom, happiness, success, peace of mind, health, family, and team.

Words are the building blocks of knowledge and literacy in any field of endeavor. As obvious as it may sound, understanding the exact definitions of words is an elementary part of success in any area of life; and yet, the normal education process, in most cases, omits this important idea.

As an example, look at the word “ciao.” Although Italian in origin, it is commonly used in many countries as a farewell, meaning any one of a number of things, such as “see you later,” “take care,” or “love you, dahling!”

We all know what this word means; however, in the American Heritage dictionary online, one finds an interesting history of the word which includes a connotation perhaps not widely known:

[Italian, from dialectal ciau, alteration of Italian (sono vostro) schiavo, (I am your) servant, from Medieval Latin sclavus, slave, servant ; see slave.]

Word History: Ciao first appears in English in 1929 in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which is set in northeast Italy during World War I. It is likely that this is where Hemingway learned the word, for ciau in Venetian dialect means “servant, slave,” and, as a casual greeting, “I am your servant.” Ciau corresponds to standard Italian schiavo; both words come from Medieval Latin sclavus, “slave.” A similar development took place with servus, the Classical Latin word for “slave,” in southern Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Poland, where servus is used as a casual greeting like ciao. At the opposite end of the world, in Southeast Asia, one even sees words meaning “slave” or “your slave” that have developed into pronouns of the first person, again to indicate respect and humility.”

In the very literal sense, saying “ciao” to someone is saying, “I am your slave.”

This focus on the word “ciao” is only intended to make a point – that even the most simple words can have fascinating definitions and/or connotations.

Going back to the American Heritage dictionary and looking up the word “but,” you will find it has 9 definitions as a conjunction, 1 definition as a preposition, and 2 definitions as an adverb, for a total of 12 different definitions of that one little word, a common and frequently used word.

The same holds true for such words as when, that, the; even the smallest word in the English language, “a,” has many definitions. These are words used in our everyday conversations without our giving them a thought. We assume that we understand them.

And in some sense, we do understand them. But… because we are not taught in school about the importance of thoroughly understanding the definitions of words, many of us have learned words through reading or hearing others’ usage of them, rather than using a dictionary. This works to a certain extent, based on the premise that the user of the word understood it – but what if that person used the word incorrectly?

Unless one already knows the correct definition(s), the misunderstanding gets passed along. The toddler who is just learning to talk is going to pick up whatever errors may be made by parents, siblings, cartoon or TV show characters, and any other sources. The adult who is reading something or listening to someone speak can fall into the same trap. It’s a common occurrence, not limited to age.

But let’s say that the writer or speaker does use the word correctly. Without using a dictionary, the reader or listener is left to infer the meaning of the word, based on the context in which it is being used. This tactic opens the door for conjecture, assumption or guessing and can lead to a total misunderstanding of the word.

As a child who was always reading books, I often came upon words I didn’t know. At those junctures I would do one of two things – skip right on over them and keep reading, or, call out to my mother, “Mom, what does “____” mean?” My Mother, God bless her, would promptly but kindly say, “Look it up!”

I can’t say I appreciated my Mother’s response as much then, as I do now. Stopping to look up a word was an interruption and fairly annoying. Much “easier” to either take a guess or just keep on reading. Though it may seem “easier” at the time, it certainly doesn’t help in the long run.

When I learned about the importance of looking up words in a dictionary, over 20 years ago, I became diligent with this practice, regardless of any apparent inconvenience. In the process I have discovered definitions and connotations that I had no idea existed. The obvious result is a better vocabulary; the subtle result is a higher mood level and far better success in in life.

This process is on-going and includes any and all words. It doesn’t matter if it is a simple word that you’ve heard all your life, or a word that you don’t know at all. Years ago I looked up the word “Easter” and ended up with 30 different words to define. It was fun, interesting, educational, and I enjoyed it.

Getting clear about a word is one of the most valuable processes one can do, and yet it is so simple. It costs nothing except a few minutes of your time, yet can increase your wealth and riches far beyond what you might imagine. I attended Robert Kiyosaki’s evening seminar in Phoenix the other night and heard him say: “If you have a dictionary, that’s all you need. The most powerful thing we have is vocabulary.”

Think of your best and worst subjects in school. In your best subject, did you have an excellent comprehension of the terminology? In a subject you found difficult, were there words about which you only had a sketchy idea? A few misunderstandings can make a whole subject incomprehensible. Had I known this in high school, I’m sure I would have had a much better go at algebra and geometry!

In addition to the definition of a word, its etymology is very enlightening in itself. Here are some examples:

  • Rich
  • Middle English riche, from Old French ( of Germanic origin), and from Old English rice, strong, powerful

  • Poor
  • Middle English poure, from Old French povre, from Latin pauper

  • Prosperity
  • from the Latin prosperare, to render fortunate, from prosperus, favorable

  • Wealth
  • from the Old English wela, well-being

  • Invest
  • From Italian investire, and from French investir both from Latin investre, to clothe, surround : in-, in ; see in-2 + vestre, to clothe (from vestis, clothes)

  • Business
  • Middle English businesse, from bisi, busy

  • Fund
  • Latin fundus, bottom, piece of land

  • Mortgage
  • from Latin mortuus, past participle of mori, to die

  • Enthusiasm
  • Late Latin enthusiasmus, from Greek enthousiasmos, from enthousiazein, to be inspired by a god, from entheos, possessed

  • Chakra
  • Sanskrit cakram, wheel, circle

  • Karma
  • Sanskrit, deed, action that has consequences, karma

  • Yin
  • Chinese (Mandarin) yin, moon, shade, female element

  • Yang
  • Chinese (Mandarin) yáng, sun, light, male element

As interesting as etymology is, there is a vast difference between knowing the etymology of a word and knowing its precise definitions. Knowing the origin and history of a word is not a substitute for the definitions themselves – but the above examples give you a very good idea of the value of reading about the etymology when you are at the dictionary, looking up words. The etymology enhances your general understanding, and the definitions give you a complete understanding.

In my Goals Workshops I hand out a sheet containing some 350 words pertinent to the area of finances. I call it “A Path to Wealth & Prosperity.” I deliberately chose the the title “A Path to Wealth & Prosperity” rather than saying “The Path to Wealth & Prosperity.” That one word choice makes a huge difference. Use of the word “a” instead of “the” communicates that there is more than one way to create prosperity. The word “a” conveys the freedom to choose from an infinite pool of choices.

The list itself contains every word I could think of regarding the subject of finances. I offer this list as part of my Goals Workshop not only as a support to people in attaining their financial goals but also to emphasize the importance of vocabulary in any area of life. For example, if a person wants to be a successful singer, that person would do well to start a list of words to define thoroughly: “sing, song, music, note, vocal, chord, harmony, pitch, tone, key, clef,” etc.

Increasing one’s vocabulary increases clarity which, in turn, leads to empowerment.

In short, a good vocabulary enriches your life and supports you in moving forward with your dreams.

Whatever your areas of endeavor, you can make up your own lists and get going on the definitions. It will make a significant difference.

In that light, what would our world be like, if every person on our planet Earth fully understood the word “love”?

  • “Love” (noun)
  • 1. A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.”