Looking for the Best Word? Tip #27

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This series offers to help writers who are trying to make their work more accessible, interesting, varied, accurate and effective by exploring similar and dissimilar words. It also provides language learners with insights into some of the peculiarities of the English language.

A good thesaurus gives alternatives for the idea of a word, but not all suggestions are true synonyms. Context matters. Placing synonyms into a sentence to see whether they make sense is a way of checking suitability. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is also essential.

My chosen dictionary is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I use Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection, preferring the 1987 edition. But I try to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when an appropriate term evades me, live on the reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s words: Quiet/Turbulent

Quiet – Roget gives these headers: inert, moderation, assuage, smooth, quietude, still, euphoria, silent, soft-hued, grey, dissuade, inaction, reposeful, peaceful, submitting, middling, inexcitable, pleasurable, modest, secluded. Under the subheading, ‘still’, there are (48) more suggestions, including unstirring, immobile, motionless, spellbound, becalmed, frozen, and silent.

Turbulent – Roget lists these headers: disorderly, violent, excitable. Under the sub-heading ‘disorderly’ are another (33) alternatives, including unruly, tumultuous, riotous, frenzied, tempestuous, agitated and wild.

These two words can operate as antonyms and it’s in that capacity I’m examining them here.

Let’s look at usage for quiet.

‘Overwhelmed by the pure serenity of the scene, Sarah stared over quiet water, tiny wavelets caressing her toes as she absorbed the tranquillity of a cloudless sky merged with a sea unmarked by swell or crests.’

Here, we could replace ‘quiet’ with ‘unstirring’, ‘immobile’, ‘motionless’ and ‘becalmed’ without altering the meaning of the sentence to any great extent. However, ‘quiet’ describes not only the stillness of the sea, here, it also emphasises the peace and silence.

Now let’s look at usage for turbulent.

‘Drawn by danger, the young man teetered on the very edge of the cliff to be at one with the turbulent sea, as it foamed and surged against the rocks below, and welcomed dark scudding clouds driving thunder and distant rain curtains across boiling crests bleached white by bursts of jagged lightning.’

In this case, we could substitute ‘unruly’, tumultuous’, ‘riotous’, ‘frenzied’, ‘tempestuous’, ‘agitated’ or ‘wild’ for ‘turbulent’ without changing the mood or tone of the sentence. Which do you think helps maintain the tone of the sentence here? Would you retain the single sentence structure, or change it into two or more sentences?

For language learners, there’s a great group page on Facebook, which you can find through this link.

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

Antonyms can be difficult to discover and thesauruses generally fail to give examples. When utterly lost for such an opposite, I grab ‘The New Nuttall Dictionary of English Synonyms and Antonyms’ published 1986, which generally resolves my dilemma. I’m sure other such volumes are readily available.

By the way, a Google search today for ‘Writers Help’ brought up 82,200,000 results. One post from this series was 5th in the list and a second was 6th! And all other 9 sites listed on the 1st page included either the word ‘writers’ or ‘help’ or both in their URLs. So, looks like you’re in good company when you read these posts.

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