Looking for the Best Word? Tip #59


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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: Menace/Reassure; The colour blue/gold/red, etc., Flog a dead horse, Desenrascanço.

Menace – Roget lists these headers for the verb: endanger, warn, frighten, and threaten. Under the sub-heading ‘threaten’ are a further 74 alternatives, including menace, hijack, bully, fulminate, defy, grow nasty, presage, spell danger, and caution.

Reassure– Roget provides one header: give courage. And under that sub-heading are 23 alternatives, including animate, hearten, encourage, raise morale, and give confidence.

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

Let’s look at usage for Menace:

‘Go menace the fools in the casino; I’ll follow you once they’re good and scared.’

‘Storm clouds menaced the crew, as the swells grew higher and the wind increased.’

In sentence one, we could substitute ‘threaten’ and ‘bully’ for ‘Menace, but I feel it would be less effective.

In the second sentence, ‘warned’, ‘threatened’ and ‘spelt danger’ would be usable alternatives, but, again, they lack the underlying power of ‘menaced’, I think.

Now let’s look at usage for Reassure:

‘Let me reassure you that rumours about rising taxes are exaggerated and largely untrue.’

‘Pamela worked hard to reassure the children that they were safe now the escaped tiger had been tranquilized.’

In the first sentence none of the suggested alternatives would sensibly replace ‘reassure’.

In sentence two, ‘hearten’, ‘encourage’ and ‘give confidence’ would all work to retain the sense, however, I think they lack the strength of ‘reassure’. What do you think?


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: ‘The colour blue/gold/red, etc.

‘The colour blue dominated Picasso’s paintings during his ‘Blue Period’.’ Better to write; ‘Blue was the dominant colour of Picasso’s paintings during this period of his work.’

‘The setting sun turned the sky to the colours gold, red and orange.’ Here, ‘the colours’ is an unnecessary addition to the sentence and should be excluded.

‘All the structures in the Arabian palace were coloured gold to simulate the look of the precious metal.’ Here, the use of ‘coloured’ is needed to explain that the structures are merely coloured but not made of the metal.

Blue, gold, red, green, yellow etc.’ are all colours and therefore we have no need to add ‘the colour’ to describe them. ‘Gold’ however, is also a metal, so there may be occasions when it’s necessary to provide a description, depending on context.

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.

Flog(ging) a dead horse: an expression that means to continue to do or say something long after the need for it has passed.

‘Zander never knows when to stop ranting about things; he’s forever flogging a dead horse.’

Maybe better to write; ‘Zander continues to rant long after he’s said all that’s needed.’

‘You’re flogging a dead horse if you think you’re going to change my mind.’

This could be written; ‘No matter what else you say, I won’t change my mind.’

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.

Desenrascanço (Portuguese) – to cleverly extricate oneself from a difficult situation.

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 month. I also deal with word use there, so if you’d like to take a look, please click this link.

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

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2 thoughts on “Looking for the Best Word? Tip #59

  1. Word usage is as important as word choice. I find a thesaurus is a useful reference to choose a word, but the dictionaries assure the more nuanced usage. When I write, I keep a thesaurus, an English dictionary, a couple of foreign language dictionaries, and topical research/reference materials on hand.

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    1. You’re absolutely right, MomzillaNC. When I first started this series, I had an introductory passage pointing out the diffference between a dictionary and a thesaurus. Maybe it’s time I inserted that again, for new visitors?

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