A series of posts for all word lovers, offering help for writers and language learners.
This week’s words: Important; Congeries; Hopeful optimism; Heard it through the grapevine.
Important – Roget lists these headers: crucial, fundamental, necessary, and important. Under the sub-heading ‘important’ are a further 84 alternatives, including weighty, big, earth-shaking, critical, radical, leading, not to be overlooked, required, trenchant, high-level, and great.
Let’s look at usage for Important:
‘Free education for all is an important factor in achieving true justice.’
‘Brian took the important step of checking on Jenny’s bank account before deciding to marry her.’
‘Is religious faith more important than factual information?’
In these sentences, we could exchange ‘important’ with ‘critical’ and retain the meaning. However, the use of any of the other synonyms would either alter the meaning substantially, or else require a complete restructuring of the sentence.
Figure of speech:
Congeries: A figure in which disparate words are ‘heaped’ to accomplish emotional impact: ‘systrophe’ is the piling of figurative portrayals without giving a literal one.
‘Tall, bulky, and ancient as Methuselah, the edifice dominated the street, standing dark against the bright new offices surrounding it, stained, weathered, loud as a misplaced exclamation mark, with black blemishes scattered randomly among the stark building blocks of its construction, huge buttresses supporting its vastness, it stood as a monument to bad taste and utilitarianism.’
This type of sentence structure has a place in fiction, but should be used rarely and in the right place to avoid an accusation of employing ‘purple prose’.
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: ‘Hopeful optimism’
This expression is not simply a redundancy, since both words express the same quality, but a tautology. One who is optimistic is, by definition, hopeful, and vice versa. So, please, use only one of these words to describe your character.
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 effective 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.
Heard it through the grapevine: an expression that means to have gathered information through the gossip of the neighbourhood or group of people concerned with it.
‘You never told me you were going out with another man; I heard it through the grapevine.’ We can say the same thing in a less clichéd way: ‘You didn’t let me know you were dating another man, but I was told by friends.’
Language learners might find this link useful for pronunciation queries, and you’ll reach a great group page on Facebook if you click this link.
Here is an infographic I found online. It deals with common words we use so often they may have become boring to readers, and provides alternatives.
You can find the original on this website.
I welcome observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for your ideas and thoughts.
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