Looking for the Best Word? Tip #49


Word cloud created via Prowrtingaid.com


Offering help for writers and language learners, this series of posts is a resource for all word lovers.

This week’s words: Fable, Assonance, sort of, back against the wall

Fable – Roget’s thesaurus lists these alternative words: maxim, fantasy, fable, narrative. Under the sub-heading ‘fable’ are a further 42 replacements, including fiction, tale, yarn, claptrap, myth, swiz and humbug.

Let’s look at usage for: Fable

Most readers will be familiar with Aesop’s Fables, often learned in childhood. That’s certainly the most common usage of the word. And, used this way, the word simply means a tale illustrating a proverb, or supplying a moral lesson. But, as we can see, the word carries more meanings than this narrow definition.

‘The manifestos of political parties are generally no more than fables designed to fool the unwary.’

‘Most texts considered sacred by their adherents are fables dressed up to convince the gullible.’

In both these sentences the sense of the word is that of myth, perhaps stretching to claptrap, swiz, and humbug, all of which, with a little restructuring, could be used here.

Figure of speech:

Assonance: meaning the similarity of vowel sounds in nearby words. (Famously, in Willie Russell’s play ‘Educating Rita’, the eponymous heroine, on hearing her lecturer’s definition of the term regarding poetry, responds with, ‘Oh, so it’s getting the rhyme wrong.’) There’s a common misunderstanding that it also means the repetition of the initial letter in following words, however, the correct term for a figure of speech that relates to common consonants is more properly ‘consonance’.

‘Her hair and their wear were, as it were, a blur.’

‘At noon, the loon took a spoon full of prune and made to croon out of tune at the moon.’

Dreadful examples, but the best I can think of with limited time. Have a go yourself.

‘A click-clacking clock caused the clot to collapse in complete confusion.’ This is an example of consonance.


Redundancies are words serving no semantic purpose. In speech, they act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they impede the reader’s progress.

This week’s example: ‘sort of

Oh dear. ‘The boulder rolling down the hill was sort of big.’ Yuck! Let’s try something with a stronger adjective, shall we? ‘The boulder rolling inexorably down to crush Matilda was enormous!’ We could equally use ‘huge’, ‘colossal’ or immense here.

Cliché; a cliché is a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s been so overused it no longer holds any power. However, clichés usually come into being as the result of their original ability to describe a situation or quality. Their use should be sparing and appropriate; in dialogue, they’re acceptable, providing the speaking character would use such expressions.

back against the wall: an expression meaning to face serious problems with only limited options.

‘His irresponsible financial dealings had left him is so much debt that he had his back against the wall.’

‘The three men converged on her, forcing her to stop with her back against the wall.’

In ‘his’ case we could try ‘His irresponsible financial dealings had left him is so much debt that he had little option but to declare himself bankrupt.’ Or, perhaps, ‘…so much debt that he was forced to apply to the bank of Mum and Dad to get him out of trouble.’ Either way, avoiding the cliché will make the writing stronger.

In ‘her’ case, the description could be accurate, in that she could be trapped in a physical situation where her back was literally against the wall. There are situations in which a cliché is acceptable. However, we could try a slight change: ‘The three men converged on her, forcing her to back into the wall.’

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

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