Will the Slipper Fit?

By Ryan Fisher.

When studying for the ACT, and especially the SAT, vocabulary often finds its way to the front of student’s minds. This is probably a little unwarranted, as the importance of vocabulary on both of the tests is somewhat overrated. Additionally, building vocabulary in a short period of time is difficult, and is really something that should be cultivated through extensive reading. Still, as a test prep tutor I do realize that vocabulary is important to my students, and this forces me to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about words.

The word that I have been thinking about a lot lately is “Cinderella”. We are all probably quite familiar with the folk tale, which has been known in written form for nearly 400 years. So why is it so prevalent in my mind today? The main reason is that my girlfriend took me last weekend to see the Kenneth Branagh Disney re-make/update. (I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited about going, but it was actually much, much better than I expected.)

The other reason, and the one that leads to the idea of word use, is the annual March staging of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Most of us fill out a bracket, always looking for that “Cinderella” squad that will enchant us all. You cannot watch a single game of the tournament without hearing the word Cinderella mentioned on multiple occasions. While watching the movie last week I was reminded that the title character’s name was actually Ella, and the “cinder” was added as a derogatory term by her step-sisters. But very rarely do we even use the word as a proper noun anymore. Instead, it has evolved into an adjective, especially every March as “Cinderella” teams try to advance through our brackets.

While studying your word lists for the upcoming exams, keep this little example in mind. Our vocabulary is constantly changing and evolving. Words that didn’t exist 20 years ago are now used without a second thought, and words that once used to mean one thing may now mean something completely different. For me, word lists aren’t interesting. But as I have been reminded, words certainly can be.


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