Saturday, November 04, 2006

Things I learned from comics: Vocabulary

You may or may not know that I'm currently in Grad school, seeking a teaching degree (and it looks like I'll end up certified to teach English, Math, and science (specifically Physics) to any Junior High or High School student around). Well, I recently came across this passage in one of the books for my "Teaching Reading" course:
Hayes and Athens (1988) explain that we encounter more of these rare words [words beyond the 10,000 or so words that adults tend to use in their working vocabulary] in printed text than we do in oral speech. In fact, adults, when talking to other adults, will use about 17 rare words for every 1,000 words. Adults, when talking to a 10 year old child, will only use about 11 rare wortds for every 1,000 words. Television shows offer about 22 rare words per every 1,000. However, a children's book uses 30 rare words for every 1,000; an adult book uses 52 for every 1,000; a comic book (Yes! Archie lives!) uses about 53 rare words for every 1,000; and a scientific paper uses as many as 128 rare words per every 1,000.
--Kylene Beers, When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do, p. 197.

How about that, comic fans? Ranked just below scientific papers in use of rare words. That's an accomplishment, to be sure. And I doubt that this is counting "incredibly rare words" like "absorbascon" and "materioptikon" and "Khund" and "Cyttorak." You know, the gigantic vocabulary of made-up words that we use in casual conversation. Now, those of you who've been reading comics since childhood will see this passage and say "yeah, I knew that already." That's what I said. Back when I was significantly younger, when I'd actually hear about comic books "rotting my brain," I could point to the words I'd learned on the four-color page as an example of the intellectual value of floppies. Sure, I'd heard Skeletor and Megatron say "annihilate," but it wasn't until I saw it in a comic book that I knew how it was spelled. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I learned the following words from comics, and this is just off the top of my head:
  • Megalomaniac
  • Monomaniac
  • Lecherous
  • Corps
  • Corpse
  • Quicklime
  • Quasar
  • Impervious
  • Praetor
  • Rogue
  • Coriander
  • Womanizer
  • Privateer
  • Legion
  • Ferro
  • Spawn
  • Vermin
  • Gamma
  • Irradiated
  • Arachnid
  • Temporal
  • Metropolitan
  • Darkroom
  • Chivalry

And on, and on, and on. If I could paw through some of the comics I read as a kid, I could triple that list, perhaps more. Every mad scientist's monologue, every discussion of arcane technology or costume design (where else do you learn something like "epaulet"?), every magical incantation or superpower explanation was o'erteeming with new and unfamiliar words for my spongelike young brain to absorb. Comics helped me become the word nerd I am today. I suspect that it's much the same with most people who read comics in childhood, especially those who continue to do so today.

Et tu? What did you learn from comics?


Scipio said...

""incredibly rare words" like "absorbascon" "

Well, that's less rare than it used to be, I hope...!

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

I learned just how boring the Scholastic books were that we were supposed to be reading. And I learned that reading gerry conway comics were nothing compared to Steve Englehart comics and that I could read at a 6th grade level at 2nd grade thanks to comics. I understood B-stories and how they differeed from A-stories and how to follow a sub-plot.

We learned that we have an advance medium for communication (something that I'm really re-learning from the Wally wood biography that I'm currently reading), and we have taken so few big chances with it.

Having a big vocabulary is... um... good. Yeah, thats it.

Rick Spence said...

Being a big fan of Superman in the Silver Age, I was the first kid in Grade 3 to know the meanings of "permanent" and temporary."

Anonymous said...

It's so easy to shout out 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility' but that's not what you meant.

I learnt forensic, analysis, microscope, particle accelerator, computer, telepathy, telekenisis, kenetics and genetics. And that's off the top of my head.

More over though, Comics helped me with Phsyics; Because I could see the problems in class as super hero problems needing solutions and tada - that's why it was important to know a sine wave.

Imagination: It Takes You Places :)

Your Obedient Serpent said...

When I met Stan Lee at a convention in the '80s, I thanked him for my vocabulary.

Silver Age comics taught me many things, the most important being that knowledge and brainpower were the best means of solving problems, and even the ability to move planets was only another tool in the service of Good, Clever Ideas.

SallyP said...

Tom, you're my hero. You even spelled them all correctly.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

I impressed the hell out of my older brother when, at age eleven, I knew the word "amorphous."

I chose not to share that I learned it from an issue of Fantastic Four.

The Invisible Woman had been brainwashed to become a villain. Daredevil showed up to help. Due to his blindness and radar senses, he "saw" Sue's forcefields as an amorphous blob that periodically snapped into weird shapes. Thus, he asked the Torch, "What's the amorphous blob you're fighting?"

Johnny said, "I've been hanging around with Reed long enough to know that 'amorphous' means 'shapeless,' right?"