Looking for the Best Word? Tip #40

Word cloud via Prowritingaid.com

There’s help here for writers who like to make their work more interesting, varied, accurate and effective by using the most appropriate words. And there are insights into some peculiarities of English for those learning the language.

A good thesaurus gives substitutes for the idea of a word, but not all are true synonyms: context is vital. Check suitability by placing synonyms into a sentence to test if they make sense. But this isn’t foolproof, so a good dictionary is also essential.

My dictionary of choice is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I use prefer the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection. Though my copy is now starting to show signs of wear. I’ve installed WordWeb on my Mac for 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.

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! Many other books of words, which I occasionally consult when a word escapes me, live on reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s word: Peer

‘Peer’ belongs to that odd category of words known as contronyms. A contronym is a word that is its own antonym; a word that can have two opposing meanings! This one can mean one of a group with equal status, or a member of the nobility. However, the word also has other meanings (English can be so confusing!)

Peer – Roget lists these headers: compeer, gaze, scan, be dim-sighted, enquire, councillor, person of repute, person of rank. Under the sub-heading ‘compeer’ are a further 20 alternatives including peer, equal, fellow, equivalent, counterpart and contender.

Examples of usage for Peer:

‘Shirley was at her happiest when surrounded by her peers; her classmates always gave her confidence and companionship.’

‘The British Parliament is a two-tier democratic system of government marred by the inclusion of Peers, who represent nobody but the landed upper classes and distort decisions made by this upper house.’

And for the other common meaning of the word, relating to looking:

‘Teresa peered through the mist, searching the grey landscape for signs of the fox that had escaped the hounds.’

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.

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