Looking for the Best Word? Tip #56


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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: Ambitious/Apathetic; Consonance; Advance planning; Down to earth.

Ambitious – Roget lists these headers: attempting, enterprising, and hoping. Under the sub-heading ‘enterprising’ are a further 16 alternatives, including pioneering, adventurous, daring, innovative, with an eye to the main chance, and rash.

Apathetic – Roget lists these headers: inert, slow, incurious, inattentive, inexpectant, choiceless, nonactive, inactive, and apathetic. Under the sub-heading ‘apathetic’ are a further 51 alternatives, including uninspired, unaroused, incurious, unspirited, bovine, passive, torpid, and comatose.

These two words operate as antonyms and it’s in that capacity I’m examining them.

Let’s look at usage for Ambitious:

‘So ambitious was Donald he was prepared to risk everything to reach his goal.’

‘It was an ambitious scheme, intended to end injustice and inequality caused by unfair taxation.’

In sentence one, we could replace ‘ambitious’ directly with ‘rash’, and a little restructuring would allow the substitution with ‘with an eye to the main chance’ without altering the meaning.

Sentence two would say the same thing if ‘daring’, innovative, and ‘pioneering’ were used instead of ambitious.

Let’s contrast that with usage for Apathetic:

‘Government action in most cases is apathetic and slow, as if politicians expect problems to solve themselves over time.’

‘After a lifetime of ineffective action against the forces of extremism, Gerald had finally become apathetic about the fight for peace.’

In sentence one, we could use ‘uninspired’, ‘passive’, and ‘bovine’ instead of ‘apathetic’.

In the second sentence, ‘apathetic could be replaced with ‘inactive’, uninspired’, ‘unspirited’, and ‘passive’.

Figure of speech:

Consonance: A figure in which there is resemblance or correspondence in consonant sounds in nearby words. Alliteration can be considered as a form of consonance. If the sounds repeated are vowel sounds, the term is assonance.

‘What a lot of grot got hot in that pot. Not to be churlish, I wish for a dish of Turkish fish.’

‘Do dance daintily Dora, or Michael might move among more mobile misses.’


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: ‘Advance planning

Planning is always something done in advance of an event. You cannot ‘plan’ retrospectively. So, ‘advance’ is unnecessary 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 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.

Down to earth: an expression that means to be straightforward and clear, sometimes to the point of rudeness or terseness.

‘When referring to Brian’s new girlfriend, his mother was down to earth in her description of her size and appetite.’ We could say this instead; ‘Brian’s mother described his new girlfriend as too skinny, with no appetite at all.’

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 appeared last week. I’m also dealing with the use of words there, so if you’d like to take a look, click this link.

I welcome your observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for your ideas and thoughts. But I’ll be offline for a short while after the weekend, so your comments may not be displayed and/or responded to until I return to the digital world.

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