Looking for the Best Word? Tip #10

Word cloud via tagul.com

Examining similar and dissimilar words to find ways writers might make their work more varied, accessible, interesting, accurate and effective.

A good thesaurus gives substitutes for the idea of a word, but not all suggestions are true synonyms. Context is vital. Putting alternative words in the same sentence to see if they actually make sense is a way of checking their suitability. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is essential.

My dictionary chosen is the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. For word choices, I prefer the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus. It sits in easy reach by my desk. However, I try to prise the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when the pertinent term evades me, reside on my reference shelf, behind me.

So, to this week’s words, which are opposites:

Apathetic – Roget lists these headers: inert, slow, incurious, inattentive, inexpectant, choiceless, nonactive, apathetic. Under the sub-heading ‘apathetic’ it lists another 51 choices, including unenthusiastic, unaroused, couldn’t care less, and passive.

Avid – Roget lists the following headers: excited and desiring. From ‘excited’ flow a further 96 options, including enthusiastic, stimulated, fervent and impassioned.

Let’s look at usage for apathetic first:

‘With British politics in its current mess of indecision, extremes of dogma, and poor leadership, is it any wonder voters are often apathetic?’

Now let’s look at avid:

‘British politics, with its current mess of indecision, extremes of dogma, and poor leadership, is driving avid electors to press for alternative systems of voting.’

These two sentences, in so many ways similar, illustrate effective usage for these antonyms. In the first, we could easily substitute ‘unenthusiastic’ or ‘unaroused’ for ‘apathetic’. But ‘couldn’t care less’ would require a little restructuring to make the sentence grammatically correct and prevent clumsiness. In the second, we could use ‘enthusiastic’, ‘fervent’, and ‘impassioned’ for ‘avid’. But ‘stimulated’ would require some qualification, like ‘highly stimulated’ or ‘positively stimulated’, in order to effectively substitute ‘avid’ here.

Antonyms can be difficult to discover and thesauruses don’t generally give examples. When lost for such an opposite, I consult ‘The New Nuttall Dictionary of English Synonyms and Antonyms’ published 1986. I’m sure other such volumes are readily available.

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

This is the second example of antonyms in this series. I’ll present more as the run progresses. I welcome your comments, questions and observations. Please have your say in the ‘comments’ section below.

4 thoughts on “Looking for the Best Word? Tip #10

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