Looking for the Best Word? Tip #18

Word cloud via tagul.com

This series offers help for writers to make their work more varied, accessible, interesting, accurate and effective by exploring similar and dissimilar words. It also helps language learners understand some of the finer points of English usage.

A good thesaurus gives 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 one way of checking suitability. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is essential.

My chosen dictionary is the 2 volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I prefer to use the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection; it sits close. However, I try to dig the best word out of my crowded memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when the pertinent term evades me, live behind me, on my reference shelf.

By the way, a Google search for ‘Writers Help’ today brought up 24,400,000 results. One post from this series was 4th in the list and a second was 7th! So, you’re in good company if you read this post.

So, to this week’s word, a seasonal choice this time: Merry

Merry – Roget lists these headers: lively, happy, merry, amusing, sociable, drunk. Under the sub-heading ‘merry’ are another 59 alternatives, including joyful, ebullient, mirthful, jolly, wild, rowdy and tickled pink.

Let’s look at usage.

‘When Jo sent her “Merry Christmas” message to all her friends, there were some who proclaimed their offence at the use of “Christmas’ in the greeting.’

I could spend paragraphs on the replacement of words like ‘Christmas’ with euphemisms, but this isn’t the season for such a diatribe. However, in this example, ‘happy’, ‘sociable’ ‘jolly’ and even ‘ebullient’ could be substituted for ‘merry’. Tradition, perhaps, favours the original choice, however.

‘When Jo left the party, she was merry from imbibing a little too much of host’s wine.’

Here, we could substitute ‘drunk’ for ‘merry’, but the two words don’t express the same degree of inebriation. Someone who’s drunk is definitely the worse for drink, whereas someone who’s merry is merely a little ‘tiddly’ or, euphemistically, ‘happy’ due to a little more drink than might be wise.

For a short introduction to this series, please click this link. I welcome your comments and suggestions here. Please use the comments section for your ideas and thoughts.

For all that, let me wish all my readers here a very Merry Christmas. (for those for whom this term is inappropriate, please insert your own term, the wish remains the same – I’m agnostic, so the Christian allusion is inconsequential to me anyway).

For language learners, there’s a particularly useful group page on Facebook, which you can access by clicking this link.

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

2 thoughts on “Looking for the Best Word? Tip #18

    1. It may be restricted to a UK expression, DM, that equates being merry to having taken a little too much alcohol, rendering the drinker not exactly drunk but on the way there. Usually reserved for those who simply lose their inhibitions after a glass or two, rather than the more serious drunks who grow either bombastic or violent.


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