Looking for the Best Word? Tip #55


Word cloud via wordart.com


A series of posts for all word lovers. Offering help for writers and language learners, these posts look at many different aspects of the world of words in the hope of stimulating your curiosity and enhancing your creativity.

This week’s words: Help, Incredibly, A word to the wise, Shinrin-yoku,

Contronym: Help

Help: belongs to an odd category of words known as contronyms. A contronym is a word that is its own antonym; a word that has two opposing meanings!

Help can mean ‘assist,’ but it can also mean ‘prevent.’

Help – Roget lists these headers, as a noun and verb: concur, benefit, instrumentality, be instrumental, utility, be expedient, do good, cleaner, remedy, facilitate, aid, servant, and give. Under the sub-heading ‘facilitate’ are a further 43 alternatives, including ease, oil, simplify, not stand in the way, expedite, permit, and leave a loophole.

Let’s look at usage for Help:

‘Georgia was stuck at the top of the cliff, until Frederick pushed to help her descend.’

‘Help. I’m drowning here, not waving!’

‘In spite of the detrimental effects of the vote on all concerned, the outcome could not be helped.’

In sentence one, Frederick provides aid, though whether it’s help Georgia wanted is open to interpretation. We could substitute ‘help’ with ‘expedite’ without altering meaning.

In sentence two, aid is requested for fairly obvious reasons. Here, the simple exclamation is probably the best way to gain immediate assistance.

In sentence three, ‘helped’ is used in the sense of ‘prevented’. We could substitute ‘eased’ for ‘helped’ in this case.


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: ‘Incredibly

‘She was incredibly beautiful.’ A simple and direct statement, but with no power. Perhaps; ‘She was the epitome of beauty.’ Or, maybe; ‘Her appearance stunned those who saw her, leaving them speechless with admiration at her perfection.’

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.

A word to the wise: an expression that warns of potential problems from an action or statement.

‘A word to the wise, old boy; you’re playing with fire with her.’ Two clichés in one sentence! Let’s try: ‘My advice would be to leave the woman alone; she has a reputation for infidelity.’ Or, ‘I would avoid her, my friend; she may have a fortune, but she has also buried three wealthy husbands.’

Untranslatable words: The world’s languages contain numerous words for emotions (and other things) for which English has no equivalent. I suspect most people know ‘schadenfreude’, from German, and ‘frisson’, from French, but there are many more, and I’ll introduce some here from time to time.

Shinrin-yoku (Japanese) – the relaxation gained from bathing in the forest, figuratively or literally.

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.

I was recently invited to contribute a monthly column to an online magazine, Pandora’s Box Gazette. My first post appears this month. I’m also dealing with the use of words there, so if you’d like to take a look, click this link.

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

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