Write Now: A Shared Vocabulary Is Best When Words Have Multiple Meanings

Different subjects have different vocabularies and affect how readers and writers cycle through different vocabularies. So, I pondered a bit more and realized that students probably have to cycle through different vocabularies as well.

This is why developing one’s vocabulary is essential.

With different vocabularies, one can glide through different subjects because knowing a subject’s vocabulary is 50% of the battle.


Mathematics is full of vocabulary. In high school there are different vocabularies for algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. And one will find that some of the words used in algebra will be used in geometry, and trigonometry, and in other subjects as well.

The words have more than one meaning, but the trick is to know which meaning to use.

For example, the word slope is used quite a bit. In math class when discussing slope a student may hear “rise over run” or the equation “y=mx+b.” In english class, when discussing slope, a student may hear “the side of the mountain” or “a ski slope.” And depending on point of view, it may be a negative slope, a decline, or a positive slope, or an incline. In both classes, the use of the word slope would be used correctly. According to dictionary.com, the definition is to form with a slope or slant, and inclination or slant, especially downward or upward.


One also may hear the word angle in algebra, geometry and trigonometry. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, “an angle is the shape made by two straight lines, meeting at a common point, the vertex.” So one may hear in all three of those classes “That a right angle is 90 degrees or the measurement of a right triangle is 90 degrees. In ELA, another definition may be used which may be to scheme, and one may hear “His angle was sinister in nature.” It’s used a considerable amount in sports, and one situation is in football when a linebacker is pursuing a ball carrier on offense. The linebacker may be told to cut (down) the angle of attack which means to make the field smaller for the ball carrier to run in, so he can be tackled or corralled easier.


Chemistry is also full of vocabulary. The period table listing the elements is a prime example of vocabulary words. A student needs to the elements in order to progress through the class. A word used in chemistry class is oxygen. It may also be used in an ELA class, but with a different meaning. In chemistry class, a student may hear “Oxygen is an element that can be found on the periodic table,” while in ELA class, a student may hear “We need oxygen to survive.”


In sports, points are usually used in scoring, where Team A wins by scoring 2 points while Team B scored 0 points. Also one may be trying to persuade another’s view and it can be said that a point was made referring to a specific detail.

In journalism, typeface height is measured in points. Currently you are reading a Times font at 10 points.

This is 12 points. This is 14 points.

The joy of building one’s vocabulary is to be able to communicate both in the written form and verbal form. And for educators, when students use words across the curriculum, it shows that students do pay attention in their classes.

It’s that easy.

It’s that hard.