Some of my: Inventions | Magazine interviews | Sheds | Favorite ER memories

Information for people contemplating
a career in emergency medicine and
other medical specialties

By Kevin Pezzi, MD


Alternatives to reading the dictionary

Q: I tried following your suggestion about reading the dictionary to improve my vocabulary, memory, and intelligence, but doing that is too boring. What else can I do?

Answer by , MD: Most current books and magazines are intentionally "dumbed down" by their authors to suit the reading ability and attention span of a junior high school student with ADD. Reading such material is not sufficiently challenging to augment brainpower. It's like bench pressing five pounds: it isn't strenuous enough to be beneficial.

So what can you do? You could read what I've written. I don't refrain from using "big words" if they are a better choice than simple words, conveying my ideas more accurately. Writing with simple words only is as limiting as trying to paint a beautiful picture with a palette of eight colors, instead of the 16.7 million available on a typical computer. Synonyms are rarely identical in meaning; their nuances enrich our language, enabling people to express a wider range of concepts.

On this site, when I use a word that some of my readers may not be familiar with, I highlight it by placing a dotted blue line below it. If you hover your mouse cursor over it, the cursor will change to an arrow with a question mark, and you will see a small box appear nearby that gives its definition, such as in this example:

The box will disappear by default after several seconds. If you need more time to read its content, just move your mouse cursor slightly over the word to make the pop-up definition reappear in Firefox. In Internet Explorer, scroll the page up or down slightly (with your mouse scroll wheel, if you have one), and again hover your mouse cursor over the word in question. Alternatively, as a last resort for either browser, simply reload the page.

After you've read through this site, you could spend a few weeks reading the extensive question and answer pages on my site. You could also read one of my books, such as The Science of Sex (most people don't, incorrectly assuming they already know what they need to know about sex) or Fascinating Health Secrets. Here is what two readers said about it:

Alan Jakeway, Northern Express: "You've got to hand it to Dr. Pezzi — he knows how to craft a health book that's as gripping as a ride through a big city ER. While many health books are as dry and dull as a surgeon's medical transcript, Dr. Pezzi brings a good bedside manner to his book, blending humor, first-person insights and a folksy wisdom with cutting edge medicine. Fascinating Health Secrets is a 'good read' page-turner that will keep your attention at the beach as well as any summer novel. Dr. Pezzi's encyclopedic scope is aided by equal measures of humor and intelligence."

Information Technology worker for the Air Force Space Based Laser program, Los Angeles, CA: "I'm speechless. Well, as speechless as I get. ;-) Fascinating Health Secrets is simply a fantastic book. I can't begin to tell you what a pleasure it is to read — my brain gets such a great workout it feels like drinking 5 cups of coffee. Rarely do I find something so mentally stimulating that I can actually feel my IQ rising as I read it. Apart from the health tips themselves, there is so much killer material in the book. From your forays into discussing medical insurance and healthcare, to the observation that it is exceptional individuals who drive society and technology forward, I found myself laughing out loud, and nodding in total agreement. Please accept a virtual handshake and hearty slap on the back for such a wonderful piece of work."

"As Stan and Mindy walked into the ER,
I guessed from their attire that they had
attended the senior prom. Noticing the
blood on Mindy's gown, I surmised that
this was the reason for the ER visit. I
was correct on both counts."

Read the rest of this ER story >

If you want something lighter, you could read my two free books of ER stories (see sidebar): True Emergency Room Stories and Love & Lust in the ER.

On this site and in, I give many other tips for expanding brainpower, such as inventing. I think that inventing is particularly beneficial because it calls for original thought, not just robotic repetition of previously learned information. If inventing seems too formidable, try solving intellectual challenges in general, such as the ones on this page.

However, before you dismiss reading the dictionary because it is "too boring," you might want to consider buying another dictionary. There are several good ones, but my favorite is the American Heritage Dictionary, which I've used for years in both its printed and electronic forms. It is a splendid resource that I use almost every day of the year even though I already have a good vocabulary and can remember some definitions verbatim from over 30 years ago. To me, it isn't boring, it is enjoyable to use. Furthermore, the fact that dictionaries are necessarily fragmented into distinctly separate entries is a boon to the countless people who have short attention spans. If you can't focus for hours, try concentrating on just one word for a minute or two. In time, that won't seem very arduous, and you'll easily tackle two or three, then five, ten, twenty, and so on. My attention span was once measured in seconds, but I can now focus intently hour after hour. Like anything else, the ability to concentrate improves with practice.

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