Looking for the Best Word? Tip #31

Word cloud via Prowritingaid.com

There’s help here for writers trying to make their work more accessible, interesting, varied, accurate and effective by exploring similar and dissimilar words. The series also gives language learners insights into some peculiarities of the English language.

A good thesaurus provides alternatives for the idea of a word, but not all those are true synonyms. Context matters. Placing synonyms into a sentence to see if they make sense is one 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 the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection. But I also have the WordWeb app installed for those occasions when the apposite word evades me and I’m in a hurry.

I’ve also now downloaded a Kindle book to my Mac so I can consult it whilst editing my fiction books. It’s a new work, ‘The Writer’s Lexicon’ by Kathy Steinemann. You’ll find my review of this great book in the post from 23rd March.

However, I generally try to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first, though: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when an appropriate term eludes me, live on the reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s word: Vacuous

Vacuous – Roget gives these headers: mindless, unthinking. Under the sub-heading ‘unthinking’ are another (38) alternatives, including unintellectual, incapable of thought, imitative, vacant, irrational, dull-witted and stolid.

Let’s look at usage for vacuous.

‘It’s easy to describe models parading along catwalks as appearing vacuous. But, maybe, they’re just trying to separate themselves from the idiotic garb some clothes designers use to insult women.’

We could substitute ‘vacant’ and ‘mindless’ for ‘vacuous’ without altering the meaning here. But replacing ‘vacuous’ with any of the other suggested synonyms would alter the sentence quite substantially.

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.

3 thoughts on “Looking for the Best Word? Tip #31

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