Looking for the Best Word? Tip #03

Word cloud via https://tagul.com


For a short introduction to this series, please click this link.

These posts examine some similar, and dissimilar, words in an effort to suggest ways writers might make their work more varied, accessible, interesting, accurate or effective.

A good thesaurus provides alternatives for the idea of a word, but not all those suggestions are true synonyms. Context is vital. Placing alternative words in the same sentence to see whether they actually make sense is one way of determining whether they’re suitable. However, it’s not a foolproof method, so a good dictionary is vital.

I prefer the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus. It sits in easy reach. However, I try to dig the best word from my overburdened memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of word choices, which I sometimes consult when the apposite word evades me, reside on my reference shelf, behind me.

So, to this week’s word:

Delicious – Roget lists the following headers: edible, pleasant, savoury, sweet, super, and pleasurable. All the words are associated with the idea of ‘delicious’, but not necessarily direct synonyms. Under ‘pleasant’ alone a further 34 alternatives are suggested, including the ubiquitous but banal ‘nice’, so there are many variations available. How to decide which to choose?

For this word there are two broad ideas: one deals with flavour, the other with sensation.

Sample sentences.

Let’s examine ‘flavour’ first.

‘But the middle part held a savour and texture that was so pleasantly soft and nice on the palate.’

‘Nice’! Possibly the most overused word in our vocabulary. It tells us very little except that some pleasure was experienced. We want the reader to join in with the experience, don’t we? Alternatives to nice in this situation include; pleasant, arousing, welcome, gratifying, satisfying, genial, agreeable, palatable, tasty, lovely and delicious amongst others. The sentence describes food, so ‘delicious’ is an obvious choice. Many of the alternatives would also serve, however. In the end, I went for this version:

‘But, from the middle portion, I detected a savour and texture that was…well, out of this universe; the texture so deliciously soft and delightful on the tongue.’

This comes from a short story, ‘A Gastronomic Treat at the Edge of the Universe’, which is a humorous take on the work of the restaurant critic. I won’t describe what’s being tasted, but you can find the story in ‘Ten Tales for Tomorrow’ by clicking this link. Suffice it to say ‘deliciously’ fits snugly with the rest of the story.

Now let’s look at sensation.

‘And then remember his superb taste in clothes and cars, his luscious and sensual touch, and the generous cut of his wallet, which has so far afforded me access to three first nights, a private viewing and the best table at Egon’s.’

Here, we’re promoting the idea of sensation, with ‘sensual’ giving the clue to the possible activity being described. I find ‘luscious’ a little off key here. Roget’s provides a number of alternatives; delightful, delectable, exquisite, choice, juicy, and delicious. I selected the latter for the final version, but most of the alternatives would serve as well, apart from ‘juicy’ and ‘choice’.

‘And then recall his superb taste in clothes and cars, his delicious and sensual touch, and the generous cut of his wallet, which has so far afforded me access to three first nights, a private viewing and the best table at Egon’s.’

This is taken from a short story about New Year’s Eve, ‘But, Baby, it’s Cold Outside’, which treats a relationship with arch humour. You can read the entire tale free by using this link.

Tell me what you think; perhaps give your own examples as a way of putting the suggestion into practice. I welcome comments, questions and observations. Please have your say using the ‘comments’ below.