Back when I was in school, having a dictionary was a requirement. My beloved mentors, in their quest to produce erudite, eloquent intellectuals made sure that the dictionary became our indispensable ally, useful not only during English classes, but all throughout the day.
“Ladies, I did not expect such ignominious behavior from you!” I remember our principal shrieking at us after an incident (that I will prudently refrain from elaborating about). We bowed our heads in remorse, although somewhere at the back of the class, one of the ‘ladies’ (we were in 4th grade then) was already rifling through section I of her pocket dictionary.
Big words, Latin words, legal jargon, all these were part of daily exercises to improve our vocabulary. At the same time, we were advised to use simple, straightforward words when writing and having casual conversations. Why all the effort then? It was because my mentors believed that knowing the right meaning of words, big or small, will result in better written and oral comprehension. True enough, knowing the subtle suggestions and implications of different words have helped in decision making and maintaining cordial relationships with others, years later.
Sometimes, knowing the right thing to say comes as much from instinct as well as from stock knowledge. For sure, having a dictionary handy, to be able to express oneself better, is a great way to add to whatever data one already has in possession.