Looking for the Best Word? Tip #14

Word cloud created via tagul.com

A series offering to help writers make their work more varied, accessible, interesting, accurate and effective by exploring similar and dissimilar words.

A good thesaurus provides substitutes 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 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 of choice is the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I prefer to use the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for my word selection; it sits close by my desk. However, I try to dig the best word from my crowded memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when the pertinent term evades me, live on my reference shelf, behind me.

So, to this week’s words, which can be seen as opposites: Grab/Release

Grab – Roget lists these headers: retain, take. Under the sub-heading ‘take’ are another 127 alternatives, including snatch up, take hold, grip, capture, rape, collar, cadge, harvest, strip, draw off, and hit the jackpot.

Release – Roget lists the following headers: disunite, transference, decease, show, dramatize, deliver, give scope, liberation, permission, nonretention, exempt. From ‘disunite’ flow 82 more options including dissociate, separate, detach, strip, unlace, unloose, loose, and destroy.

Interestingly, although these words are generally considered opposites, both include ‘strip’ as an alternative. So, one might use either in a sentence and be fooled into thinking you’re saying the same thing. However, as with all word choice, context is everything.

The sentence, ‘He grabbed the dress off her body.’ Means something entirely different from, ‘He released her from her clothes.’ Though both could be taken to mean ‘He stripped her.’

Let’s look at usage for grab in a little more detail:

‘The fat astronomer grabbed the opportunity to study her openly and took his time to agree.’

‘A’ahl grabbed a long knife from the shelf behind her and held the sharp point against Shoarhn’s throat.’

‘She’d dashed to the women’s quarters, grabbed the nearest wrap and run most of the way to catch up the party.’

Three sentences all using ‘grabbed’ but each with a different meaning. The ‘astronomer’ is ‘taking advantage of’ his opportunity. The character, A’ahl, is rapidly ‘snatching up’ a weapon. And the unnamed woman has been expedient in her ‘gathering’ of an item of clothing. Sometimes subtle differences, but each sentence contains essential clues to meaning that allow the reader to form a picture of events.

Now let’s examine reality a little closer:

‘They watched as it was pulled into unknown depths only to be released to bob for an instant on the swirling surface.’

‘I must, unfortunately, release your life from your body. I wish I were not obliged to do so. Forgive me.’

‘When she released him, there was brightness in her eyes that spoke of unshed tears.’

All three sentences use ‘release(d)’ correctly, but each presents the reader with a different picture. The item pulled into the depths was ‘let go’ to return to the surface. The polite and regretful assassin warns his victim that he must be ‘killed’. And the woman allows the man to ‘escape’ her influence only with sadness. Again, the idea of ‘release’ is used to paint the picture, but context provides the reader with clues about actual meaning.

These sentences come from ‘Joinings: A Seared Sky, Book 1’ part of an epic fantasy.

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

I welcome your comments and suggestions here. Please use the comments section for your ideas and thoughts.

If you’re a regular reader of this series, you’re in good company. I recently did a Google search for ‘Writer Help’ to answer a Quora question. The search brought up 270,000,000 results and 2 of the first 10 displayed were posts from this series!

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.