Looking for the Best Word? Tip #35

Word cloud created through Prowritingaid.com

Trying to help writers who want to make their work more interesting, varied, accurate and effective by using the best words, this series also provides language learners with insights into some peculiarities of the English language.

A good thesaurus gives alternatives for the idea of a word, but not all of these are true synonyms: context is vital. One way to check suitability is to place synonyms into the sentence to test if they make sense. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is essential.

My dictionary of choice is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I use the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection. I’ve installed WordWeb on my Mac for times when I’m in a hurry and the apposite word evades me. Also, I’ve downloaded the Kindle edition of Kathy Steinemann’s ‘The Writer’s Lexicon’ to consult whilst editing my fiction, so I can inject more variety to the text.

However, I attempt to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise, which I need!. Other books of words, which I consult when a word escapes me, live on reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s words: Zealous/Apathetic

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

Zealous – Roget lists these headers: willing, resolute, active, fervent. Under the sub-heading ‘fervent’ are another 46 substitutes including fervid, passionate, vehement, exuberant, impetuous, fiery, hysterical, and furious.

Apathetic – Roget lists the following headers: inert, slow, incurious, inattentive, inexpectant, choiceless, inactive, apathetic. Under the sub-heading ‘apathetic’ are a further 51 alternatives including unimpassioned, unmoved, unaroused, lukewarm, nonchalant, lackadaisical, vegetative, sluggish, torpid and insensible.

Let’s look at usage for zealous.

‘Some leaders are so zealous in their approach to real problems that they allow their passion to overwhelm common sense resulting in ill-advised decisions.’

Here we can substitute ‘fervid’, ‘exuberant’, ‘impetuous’, ‘fiery’ and even ‘’hysterical’ for ‘zealous’ without altering the tone of the statement. Using the other substitutes listed in Roget’s would require either restructuring the sentence or would result in an alteration of tone and, in some case, even the meaning.

Now let’s see how we can use apathetic.

‘Modern politics has made many voters so apathetic they no longer exercise their right to a say in how their country is run, thereby allowing the situation to deteriorate even further.’

This time, we can replace ‘apathetic’ with ‘unmoved’, ‘unaroused’, and ‘lukewarm’ without substantially changing the meaning of the sentence. Using the other suggestions would require restructuring the sentence to arrive at a similar meaning, but tone would definitely be altered along the way.

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.

So far, in this series of posts, I’ve looked at synonyms, antonyms and contronyms. I’ve now moved through the alphabet from A to Z. So, from next week, I’ll continue with the core subject but will inject a few more unusual words the English Language offers and explore those as a means of broadening vocabulary. I hope you’ll join me.

4 thoughts on “Looking for the Best Word? Tip #35

  1. Hi, Stuart!

    Dictionary.com provides antonyms. For zealous they show apathetic; lackadaisical.

    I generally do my research online, but for a print thesaurus, I’ve found The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale invaluable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s useful to know, Kathy; another source for antonyms is always good to have. As for the print thesaurus, I guess we all have our favourite. Mine is starting to show the wear of the years. I bought the Roget new in 1987, so it’s now had 30 years of use and abuse to cope with! The spine’s going, but it still does the job.


    1. English is such a diverse language, with so many options. Perhaps that’s what causes the problems; either ignorance or laziness, eh?
      Thanks for the comment, Bonsai.


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