Looking for the Best Word? Tip #06

Word cloud via tagul.com


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

These posts look at similar, and dissimilar, words to suggest ways writers might make their work more varied, accessible, interesting, accurate and effective.

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

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

So, to this week’s word:

Reluctance – Roget lists the following headers: slowness, dissent, unwillingness, resistance, dislike. All are associated with the idea of ‘reluctance’, but some work poorly as direct synonyms. Under ‘unwillingness’ another 83 alternatives are given; both as single words and as phrases, including ‘disinclination’ and ‘sulkiness’. How to decide which to choose?

‘Wimpishness isn’t the cause of his reluctance; he sincerely believes equality of the sexes means I should do whatever he’d be prepared to do on my behalf.’

Which of the many alternatives could replace ‘reluctance’ here? And should we change it? ‘Disinclination’, ‘unenthusiasm’, ‘noncooperation’ and ‘unhelpfulness’ would all say more or less the same thing. But would the sentence work as well? I’d avoid ‘unhelpfulness’ as it unhelpfully echoes the ending of ‘wimpishness’. I find the other examples slightly clumsy. For me, ‘reluctance’ is the best of the available nouns here.

Of course, the opposite of reluctance could be defined as willingness.

Roget gives a list for willingness, which includes: keenness, persuadability and cooperation. And under the sub-heading of ‘willingness’, it lists a further 70 examples. English is so diverse!

‘Eagerness is the cause of his enthusiasm; in spite of his belief in gender equality, he’s gallant enough to perform the task for me; a flexibility of mind I’m inclined to applaud and reward.’

This is more or less the opposite of the first sentence. To fully appreciate the meaning in context, click on this link and read the short story from which the first sentence is extracted.

I’d be interested in your examples. Perhaps use this as an opportunity to put the exercise into practice? I welcome comments, questions and observations. Please have your say using the ‘comments’ section below.

This post was scheduled. I’m on a digital break and won’t be responding to comments until 8th October. But please don’t let that stop you!

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