You’ve heard of IQ, but what’s your VQ?

It’s not your IQ that’s at fault, it’s your VQ.

“You should always avoid engaging in duportism when speaking. Should you duport at any time during your speech, you will make a fool of yourself. However, as this is quite obvious I shall make no further mention of the act.”

Reading the above statement probably didn’t make sense.

You might have had an inkling of what I was saying. You may have furrowed your brow in annoyance, or perhaps your mind began to wander elsewhere mid-sentence. You might have even re-read those lines a few times trying to decipher it. But if you still don’t understand what I was advising, don’t worry; both ‘duport’ and ‘duportism’ are not real words, they were nonsensical terms which I created to prove a point – that much as you’d struggle to paint by numbers without the numbers, you’d struggle to make sense of a sentence if you didn’t truly understand they key words.

You may think you rarely lack knowledge of key words, especially if you’re a native speaker of the language you’re using. But how often do you find yourself having to re-read a sentence despite ‘knowing’ all the words? According to my clients, it’s extremely common. There’s probably some words you know but can’t define in this article. Try it when you get to the end.

When we have to re-read a sentence, it usually happens because of one of two things: it could be that the meaning behind the sentence you read caused your mind to recollect a story, imagine something new or put the pieces together on a problem you’ve been working on causing you to try and multi-task, which we can’t do.

Or it could be you came across what I call a ‘verbal blind spot‘; a word or particular phrase which you’ve read repeatedly yet still can’t define into your own terms. In these moments, those verbal blind spots hinder your subconscious from quickly internalizing new information, interrupting that enjoyable state of flow and learning. If reading was like your subconscious trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle by putting the words in the right order to make a bigger picture, then verbal blind spots are like finding there’s a decorated piece missing.

If reading was like your subconscious trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle to see the big picture, then verbal blind spots are like finding there’s a decorated piece missing.

If I know the word, why do I have a verbal blind spot?

At first you may think it’s curious that you know a word but can’t define it, but then again how often are you asked to define the words you use?

In my view verbal blind spots are not an issue caused by a poor education from our youth, they are instead a weakness of what I call your Verbal Quotient (VQ) and a lack of effort you may have made since leaving school.

‘Verbal blind spot’: a word or phrase which you’ve read repeatedly yet can’t define into your own words.

Your VQ is essentially your ability to define the words you use into your own terms. People can suffer from verbal blind spots and a low VQ for a multitude of reasons.

If you’ve failed to create a personal definition of terminology during your adult life, you’ll have filled in the missing words with gut feelings – which are usually incorrect when examined a little deeper. On the other hand, if an offending word causes you to feel a strong emotion it could potentially undermine your desire to understand it; you see this when devout Marxists read or hear the word Capitalism and fly into seeing hatred, because their personal definition of the word is one clouded with emotion which essentially equals ‘exploitation’.

Occasionally some know there is a problem, but are still embarrassed to ask for a definition of a phrase they hear regularly, especially if this is a buzzword used in their workplace. Why this is the case I’m unsure. Maybe it’s the fear of being seen as inadequate, but without asking you’ll never know and I would strongly recommend you seek clarification on any words you’re unsure about, because it’s often better to know what to do, than to be told off for doing the wrong thing.

VQ: your ability to define the words you use into your own terms.

How does a low VQ hinder me?

I have found that individuals of all ages who are often unable to translate key words into their own terms are effectively stunted in their potential. Unable to speak for themselves, someone else usually speaks for them and that person usually doesn’t have their charge’s best interests in mind. This handing over of the reigns to an authority figure also has the effect of making the non-speaker feel as if they are in some way an intellectual failure, because they falsely believe they misunderstand entire ideas – when in fact they merely fail to understand a handful of words crucial to understanding the bigger picture.

The reality is they are not an intellectual failure at all, because being unable to define a word does not define their potential or worth to the world.

How do I identify verbal blind spots and increase my VQ?

The solution to eliminating verbal blind spots and increasing your VQ is simple: identify the word or phrase your mind is struggling with and give it a definition.

For example, if an instruction had been issued by your employer outlining their new corporate strategy which demanded you “practice synergy with everything you did” it’d be simple to follow. But, if you had to re-read that instruction because, despite having heard the word ‘synergy’, but lacking a definition for it you’re liable to become frustrated due to what you see as a lack of clear communication. Even worse, if you misinterpreted ‘practice synergy as ‘working independently’, you’d quickly get into trouble given that ‘synergy’ essentially means ‘to work a team.

Therefore, you should always first identify whatever word you cannot define and then research the dictionary definition. You can do this by looking at a sentence and going along until you find the troubling word. You can then create your own definition in terms you’re familiar with if the dictionary still proves to be too obtuse. Following that, try to paint a visual picture or micro-story of the concept as in the example below:

  • Synergy = (Dictionary definition) The combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.
  • Synergy = (My definition) The power of teamwork.
  • Synergy = (Micro-story) Synergy is akin to the switch from doing your absolute best on a project by yourself and achieving mediocre results, to working alongside experts who could help you finish a project which is better than anything you could create when working alone.

By following this simple structure, you give yourself three ways to better understand your language. The micro-story will often usually appeal to you on a more emotional and subconscious level, making it even more memorable.

How can I strengthen my word defining skills?

You can strengthen your word defining skills by abiding by these simple rules.

  • Your definition can articulate the essential attributes of whatever is at hand.
  • Your definition does not name the thing or concept being defined. For example: saying ‘a circle is circular’ adds nothing of clarity. It would be better to say ‘a circle is an infinitely looping object lacking straight lines’.
  • Your definition is neither too wide or narrow in its scope.
  • Your definition does not fall afoul of bias by using language such as: ‘the immoral are those who are not moral’.

Can I test my VQ like my IQ?

No. I’ve not developed a test for Verbal Quotient mainly because many of the similar tests around linguistic fluency place a heavy reliance upon knowing obscure words, rather than testing your knowledge of common words and jargon. It’d also be impossible to check your personal definition, because they are personal to you.

Your IQ also doesn’t mean much in reality. IQ tests are often skewed in favour of those talented at mathematics and logic puzzles at the expense of those talented in other areas such as the arts. You could have an incredibly talented painter who scores terribly on an IQ test, but that doesn’t really mean much.

I also don’t feel it’s truly possible to create an all-encompassing VQ test. You would have to contend with the issue of those who command larger vocabularies compared to those occasional reading-illiterate rustics who can hold us spellbound by their mastery over the use of the common word. One may know a wealth of words, but the other can use few far more effectively – in that case who has the larger VQ?

If you can’t test someone’s VQ, how do you know if it’s high or low?

One of the best ways of testing your VQ is simply to try and define all the buzzwords and jargon you use in your career. If you can’t but them into a personal definition and micro-story, then that’s a weakness. If you can easily define each term, then well done, you’ve a strong grasp of your common terminology and the words you frequently use.

Despite the lack of an official test if you practice identifying and defining your verbal blind spots regularly, it will not only help improve your VQ, improve your ability to respond quickly but also improve your confidence when speaking, reading and writing more widely.

Much as an IQ test attempts to show your strengths and weaknesses in your general intelligence, your VQ if tested would show strengths and weaknesses in your lexicon. This doesn’t it would investigate only the size of your vocabulary. It would also investigate how you used the words you know and deciphered the words you didn’t.

‘Verbal blind spot’: a word or phrase which you’ve read repeatedly yet can’t define into your own words.

People can suffer from verbal blind spots for a multitude of reasons. You may have a low VQ if you’ve failed to create a personal definition of terminology during your adult life. On the other hand, if an offending word causes you to feel a strong emotion it could potentially undermine your desire to understand it: you see this often when devout Marxists see the word Capitalism and fly into seeing hatred, because their personal definition of the word is one which essentially equals ‘exploitation’.

Then again, many are embarrassed to ask for a definition of a phrase they hear regularly, especially if this is a buzzword used in their workplace. Why this is the case I’m unsure. Maybe it’s the fear of being seen as inadequate, but I would strongly recommend you ask for clarification on any words you’re unsure about, because sometimes it is better to know what to do than to be told off for doing the wrong thing.

VQ: your ability to define the words you use into your own terms.

How does a low VQ hinder me?

I have found that individuals of all ages who are often unable to translate key words into their own terms are effectively stunted in their potential. Unable to speak for themselves, someone else usually speaks for them and they usually don’t have their best interests in mind. This handing over of the reigns to an authority figure also has the effect of making them feel as if they are in some way an intellectual failure, because they falsely believe they misunderstand entire ideas – when in fact they merely don’t understand a handful of words crucial to understanding the bigger picture. The reality is they are not an intellectual failure at all, because being unable to define a word does not define their worth to the world.

How do I identify verbal blind spots and increase my VQ?

The solution to eliminating verbal blind spots and increasing your VQ is simple: identify the word or phrase your mind is struggling with and give it a definition.

For example, if an instruction had been issued by your employer outlining their new corporate strategy which demanded you “practice synergy with everything you did”, it’d be simple to follow. But, if you had to re-read that instruction because despite having heard the word ‘synergy’ but lacking a definition for it, you’re liable to become frustrated due to what you see as a lack of clear communication. Even worse, if you misinterpreted ‘practice synergy as ‘working independently’, you’d quickly get into trouble given that ‘synergy’ essentially means ‘to work a team.

Therefore, you should first identify whatever word you cannot define and then research the dictionary definition. You can then create your own definition in terms you’re familiar with if the dictionary proves to be too obtuse. Following that, try to paint a visual picture or micro-story of the concept as in the example below:

  • Synergy = (Dictionary definition) The combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.
  • Synergy = (My definition) The power of teamwork.
  • Synergy = (Micro-story) Synergy is the switch from struggling on a project by yourself to bringing in experts can who create something better than you ever could on your own.

By following this simple structure, you give yourself three ways to better understand your language. The micro-story will often usually appeal to you on a more emotional and subconscious level, making it even more memorable.

How can I strengthen my word defining skills?

You can strengthen your word defining skills by abiding by these simple rules.

  • Your definition can articulate the essential attributes of whatever is at hand.
  • Your definition does not name the thing or concept being defined. For example: saying ‘a circle is circular’ adds nothing of clarity. It would be better to say ‘a circle is an infinitely looping object lacking straight lines’.
  • Your definition is neither too wide or narrow in its scope.
  • Your definition does not fall afoul of bias by using language such as: ‘the immoral are those who are not moral’.

Can I test my VQ like my IQ?

No. I’ve not developed a test for Verbal Quotient mainly because many of the similar tests around linguistic fluency place a heavy reliance upon knowing obscure words, rather than testing your knowledge of common words. It’d also be impossible to check your personal definition, because they are personal to you.

Secondly, your IQ doesn’t mean much in reality. IQ tests are often skewed in favour of those talented at mathematics and logic puzzles at the expense of those talented in other areas such as the arts. I don’t feel it’s truly possible to create an all-encompassing VQ test. You would have to contend with the issue of those who command larger vocabularies compared to those occasional reading-illiterate rustics who can hold us spellbound by their mastery over the use of the common word. One may know a wealth of words, but the other can use few far more effectively – in that case who has the larger VQ?

If you can’t test someone’s VQ, how do you know if it’s high or low?

One of the best ways of testing your VQ is simply to try and define all the buzzwords and jargon you use in your career. If you can’t put give them a personal definition and micro-story then that’s a weakness. If you can easily define each term, then well done, you’ve a strong grasp of your common terminology and the words you frequently use!

Despite the lack of an official test, if you practice identifying and defining your verbal blind spots regularly, it will not only help improve your VQ, improve your ability to respond quickly but also improve your confidence when speaking, reading and writing more widely allowing you to speak, read and write for yourself.

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