How Doctor Who Improved My Vocabulary Featured

To improve your vocabulary, a crucial technique is "elaboration" — for example, learning and using a new word in its context. Watching good television shows can provide the necessary context you need for learning new words. In this article, we take a look at five words the popular television show Doctor Who has helped children across the globe (and universe?) to learn and understand.

Tip: If you really want to build your vocabulary, then Denise and I highly recommend you try the award-winning vocabulary-improvement software Ultimate Vocabulary.* Click Ultimate Vocabulary for details.

serendipity, noun, a happy accident. In The Green Death, Professor Jones accidentally discovers a fungus that could combat a menacing infection of giant maggots. On hearing the delirious Jones utter the word "serendipity", The Third Doctor realises that Jones might have stumbled upon something:

DOCTOR: You know, I wish I knew what he meant by serendipity.
DOCTOR: Yes, means making a marvellous discovery by mistake. I have an idea Professor Jones was on the point of a breakthrough.

gestalt, noun, a form or configuration of two or more parts so integrated that we perceive them as one thing; or, more precisely, an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts. In Doctor Who, there are several gestalt beings, such as Colony Sarff (The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar), The Ood (various episodes), and The Fendahl. In Image of The Fendahl, the following exchange occurred:

DOCTOR: True, but that was just an isolated Fendahleen, comparatively weak. What's in the cellar is the Fendahl, the gestalt.
TYLER: The what?
COLBY: A gestalt is a group creature. It's made up of separate parts, but when they join together they make a new and much more powerful creature.
TYLER: He reads a lot, you know.
DOCTOR: Shush. Got it. According to the legends of Gallifrey, and the superstitions of this planet, it's fairly certain that the Fendahl is made up of twelve Fendahleen and a core.

homunculus, noun, a very small human or humanoid creature. In Talons of Weng Chiang, the midget Sin, although part pig, took the form of a small humanoid creature. The Fourth Doctor explains:

LITEFOOT: Yes. My dear Doctor, how on Earth did you deduce that one of my attackers was a midget?
DOCTOR: Elementary, my dear Litefoot. He came in the laundry basket and let the others in.
LEELA: The same creature that attacked me!
DOCTOR: The Peking Homunculus.
LEELA: Doctor, what is the Peking
DOCTOR: Homunculus.
LEELA: Homunculus.
DOCTOR: The Peking Homunculus was a toy, a plaything for the Commissioner's children. It contained a series of magnetic fields operating on a printed circuit and a small computer. It had one organic component. The cerebral cortex of a pig. Anyway, something went wrong. It almost caused World War Six.

You can see Sin, the homunculus, firing laser beams at The Doctor and his companions here:

panopticon, noun, a building, such as a prison, hospital, or library, so arranged that all parts of the interior are visible from a single point. In Doctor Who, the Panopticon is the main room of the Capitol on The Doctor's home planet, Gallifrey. It serves as the Time Lords’ Parliament and seat of government. We are introduced to the Panopticon in The Deadly Assassin:


entropy, noun, the gradual decline into disorder. In Logopolis, the Fourth Doctor explains to Adric how entropy is at work on the TARDIS:

DOCTOR: Yes. The second law of thermodynamics is taking its toll on the old thing. Entropy increases.
ADRIC: Entropy increases?
DOCTOR: Yes, daily. The more you put things together, the more they keep falling apart, and that's the essence of the second law of thermodynamics and I never heard a truer word spoken. Come on. Come on.
DOCTOR: Have you seen the state of the time column recently? Wheezing like a grampus.

Watch the exchange here:


A lot of Logopolis is about entropy. Indeed, in the end the Fourth Doctor literally falls... apart. But the moment had been prepared for.

So, the greatest tv show ever can teach us a lot of things: how to be brave in the face of death, how to live now because we'll be sad later, how to kill a Dalek by aiming for its eye, and lots of new words.


*Denise and I have agreed to receive a commission from some sales of the Ultimate Vocabulary software because we are happy to endorse that software.


Last modified on Monday, 30 November 2015 03:06


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