Looking for the Best Word? Tip #57



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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. Please be aware this post was scheduled prior to my annual break from all things digital, so any comments may not appear and/or be addressed until I return to the keyboard in a couple of weeks.


This week’s words: Jabber; Eliminate altogether; For what it’s worth; Mbuki-mvuki

Jabber – Roget lists these headers, as a noun and verb: mean nothing, speak, and chatter. Under the sub-heading ‘speak’ are a further 65 alternatives, including say, declare, pipe up, rattle on, gabble, sound off, recite, and speak with tongues.

Let’s look at usage for Jabber:

‘Jabber, jabber, jabber; you make a lot of noise and say nothing.’

‘Although Jacob managed to avoid jabber, his words were rarely to the point or even of interest.’

In the first sentence, ‘gabble’ could replace ‘jabber’ directly and ‘rattle on’ could be used with a little restructuring of the sentence and still mean the same thing.

In sentence two, where ‘jabber’ is used as a noun, we need to look at synonyms for ‘chatter’, itself a synonym for ‘jabber’, and find a good number, including ‘empty talk’, ‘blather’, ‘eyewash’, and poppycock’. English does contain some wonderful words, doesn’t it?


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: ‘Eliminate altogether

The act of elimination is the complete removal of whatever subject the verb addresses. So, ‘altogether’ is superfluous and should be avoided here.

‘Boris was determined to eliminate altogether any opposition to his intentions.’

This would be better expressed: ‘Boris was determined to eliminate opposition to his intentions.’

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.

For what it’s worth: an expression that indicates that the subject under discussion may be worth little or nothing, and can be applied to ideas as well as to material items.

‘For what it’s worth, I think your plan’s a load of old rubbish.’

This could be written better; ‘Your plan is poor.’ It’s tempting to add ‘in my opinion’, but the fact that the speaker is expressing an opinion is clear from the words used in the direct speech quoted.

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.

Mbuki-mvuki (Bantu) – the irresistible urge to remove your clothes as you dance.

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 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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