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  • Courtney Price

Building Vocabulary: Habit

(Originally Published 1/10/21)

I was encouraged to explore the word habit by a friend. And since that moment, the word seems to be popping into every conversation. Her assertion is that there is no such thing as a good habit, based on the definition.


habit: a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one

that is hard to give up.


Okay, I'm intrigued. That doesn't lead me to believe that its a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes a thesaurus can be our best friend when we're trying to decide what a word means. Remember that I'm an English major; I'm more concerned about what words make you feel than their exact definition or linguistics (studying factors of usage).

But here is a list of words that are considered synonyms for habit:

custom, manner, mode, nature, obsession, pattern, quirk, routine, style, thing, usage, addiction, bent, bias, constitution, consuetude, convention, dependence, disposition, fashion, fixation, gravitation, groove, habitude, impulsion, inclination, make-up, mannerism, penchant, persuasion, praxis, predisposition, proclivity, proneness, propensity, rule, rut, set, susceptibility, turn, use, way, weakness, wont, fixed attitude, frame of mind, hangup, second nature

Those are at the worst, negative. But at best? They are pretty lackadaisical words! I think that this time of year, when we are all trying to learn and grow, the last thing we want to do is develop dependencies, obsessions, impulsions, weaknesses, or hangups. Now, that's interesting!

Let's look at the antonyms:

unaccustomed to

Well, that's very boring indeed. And not particularly helpful in our quest. So, if you did want to define something that is a "good habit", what would you call it? Word Hippo has some good ideas:

morality, virtue, goodness, honesty, integrity, righteousness, decency, justice, morals, rectitude, uprightness, principles, probity, purity, chastity, propriety, rightness, character, justness, virtuousness, blamelessness, chasteness, conduct, ethicalness, fair play, gentleness, godliness, honor, incorruptibility, incorruption, manners, philosophy, principle, saintliness, scruples, worthiness, moral philosophy

I think that these words might be a little more difficult to form into a sentence, but I think that they are worth striving for. When we use precise vocabulary, our meaning is more clear. Instead of "I want to develop the good habit of praying every night" you might say "I would like to develop righteousness". We could say "I want to be honorable" instead of "I want to make a good habit out of not lying".

A good habit of mine is that I don't lie.

I am honest.

Which of those two sentences is more powerful?

The more I think about it, the lazier the term "good habit" sounds. Sentences with that phrase are fraught with double negatives and weakness. They say very little about what you mean.

So, if January is the time of year when you are seeking self-improvement, consider using a word that is packed with meaning. If you want integrity, use that lofty word and it might just inspire something a little deeper than a habit.

From a teaching standpoint, I think that habit is something that I will be trying to avoid in my practice. If I have habits, I will not have room to differentiate instruction for my students, which is required by law. But it's also just a good teaching practice-- it's morally the right thing to do. Staying flexible allows us to fill specific needs.

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