Looking for the Best Word? Tip #39

Word cloud via Prowritingaid.com

Some help here for writers who want to make their work more interesting, varied, accurate and effective by using the best words. Also insights into some peculiarities of English for language learners.

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. And 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: Dream

Dream, a noun and a verb – Roget lists these headers: insubstantial thing n, vision n, see vb, visual fallacy n, not think vb, be inattentive vb, error n, suppose n, fantasy n, objective n, sleep vb, a beauty n, hope vb, and desired object n. Under the sub-heading ‘fantasy’ are a further 79 alternatives including vision, nightmare, phantom, hallucination, daydream, trance, make-believe, escapism, promised land, Narnia, and pie in the sky.

Dreams are peculiar. And personal. They’ve been cited as motivation for many acts both good and bad, given as the inspiration for works of art, credited with problem solving, and suggested as sources of prediction. I have my own theory, as will most people. I honestly believe that dreams are simply the brain’s method of ‘de-fragging’. We experience millions of events every day. The brain is a wonderful organ, and an extraordinarily efficient storage mechanism, but, like the hard drive on your PC or Mac, it has a limited capacity. My suspicion is that each night, the brain reviews the items stored during the day, and previous days, and deletes those items that are of no further interest. Perhaps that’s why dreams can often make absolutely no sense: they’re sometimes just a random selection of ‘soundbites’ and ‘vids’.

Examples of usage for dream:

‘Valerie entered the room and gazed around, her intelligent face a picture of vitality and interest. He watched her with growing admiration and realised he might just have found his dream girl.’

‘I wouldn’t dream of accusing you of theft, Teresa; you were just borrowing my purse, weren’t you?’

‘“I have a dream.” Exclaimed the politician, utterly unaware of the depth of emotional gravitas that lay behind those four simple words.’

‘Stuart was an idealist, whose dream was of a world where love and peace, harmony and tolerance directed the activities and attitudes of all.’

‘Writers, especially those dealing in fiction, must treat daydreams as part of their work; preparation for the more taxing processes that emerge from imaginative foraging.’

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.