Looking for the Best Word? Tip #37

Word cloud via Prowritingaid.com

Some help for writers who want to make their work more interesting, varied, accurate and effective by using the best words. Also providing 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 on a regular basis! Other books of words, which I consult when a word escapes me, live on reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s word: Fast.

This short, inoffensive word falls into the category of a contronym, which is a word that means the opposite of itself. I’m examining this word because it can so easily be used as the ‘easy’ choice. But it can also be the ‘best’, depending on usage.

Fast – Roget lists these headers: firm, tied, inseparably, anachronistic, fixed, speedy, coloured, retained, do penance, ascetism, be ascetic, fast, starve, unchaste, offer worship.

The word holds multiple meanings. To fast, as in to cease eating, often for religious purposes. To be fast, as in a ‘fast woman’, a sexist term describing a woman who is sexually forward. To move at speed, as in ‘The fast car took the corner at high speed.’ To be fixed, as in ‘His shoe stuck fast in the sticky mud.’

Examples of usage for ‘fast’ as a contronym: meaning either ‘moving quickly’ or ‘fixed in position’.

Moving quickly:

‘Usain Bolt is a fast runner; currently the man who can cover a hundred metres more rapidly than any other.’

Fixed in position:

‘Research indicates that those with right wing views hold fast to their beliefs and are almost incapable of moving from their fixed positions.’

For language learners, here’s a great group page on Facebook.

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

2 thoughts on “Looking for the Best Word? Tip #37

  1. I use the synonym lists of Thesaurus.com quite a bit. As I am Norwegian, I do tend to repeat the same words a lot when I write in English. I usually check the definitions of the new word other places before using it, but sometimes it probably comes out a bit strange. I think the big picture is understandable most of the time, at least:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I admire your courage in writing in a language that’s not your mother tongue. I certainly wouldn’t attempt it. But I suffer the linguistic laziness of my nation: English is so widely used we can’t be bothered to learn another language. I have a bit of French and an even smaller bit of German and Greek; enough for some ‘tourist’ situations, but nothing that would allow me to write a story!

      Liked by 1 person

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