Looking for the Best Word? Tip #65

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A series of posts for lovers of words. Offering help for writers and language learners, these posts look at different aspects of the world of words to stimulate curiosity and enhance creativity.

This week’s words: Pace, Metaphor, Merge together, Know the ropes, Opia.

Pace – Roget’s thesaurus lists the following headers: synchronise (vb), long measure (n), gait (n), walk (vb), velocity (n), measure (vb). Under the noun sub-heading ‘velocity’ are a further 74 alternative nouns including rapidity, speed, tempo, rate, hurry, streak, and greased lightning. Under the verb sub-heading ‘walk’ are listed another 78 verbs including step, stride, strut, clump, patter, totter and dawdle.

Let’s look at usage for: Pace (vb)

‘This was Matthew’s seventh child as a father, but for reasons he couldn’t explain he would still pace up and down, covering miles of carpet, until he was assured both infant and mother were fine.’

Here, we might replace ‘pace’ with ‘walk’, though this generic term for ambulation carries a less accurate image of the activity. Use of the other substitutes would alter the tone of the sentence completely: try replacing ‘pace’ with ‘strut’ or ‘totter’ for example and I think you’ll see the difference.

Now, let’s look at usage for: Pace (n)

‘Writers are frequently advised to match the pace of their stories to the action; using short sentences to convey movement and longer ones to describe more descriptive passages.’

‘Martin was driving at a hell of a pace, making Jenny, his passenger, close her eyes and pray to a god she had no reason to trust.’

In sentence one, we could use ‘speed’ or ‘tempo’ without altering the meaning unduly. I sentence two, ‘speed’ would again work, as would ‘rate’. But use of the other alternatives would require some restructuring for the sentence to make sense.

Figure of speech:

Metaphor: A figure in which a phrase or word is used not in its literal sense but as an analogy.

‘Jenny’s hair flamed under the setting sun.’

‘Receiving his diploma, Roger was happiness itself.’


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: ‘Merge together

Things that are merged are, by definition, brought together, so ‘together’ is an unnecessary word here.

‘The new houses merged together the old Tudor and modern post-apocalyptic styles.’

This sentence would be better as; ‘The new houses merged the old Tudor and modern post-apocalyptic styles.’ And the resulting architecture would probably be just as awful!

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.

Know the ropes: a phrase that means to learn how to handle either equipment or a new situation. There’s some doubt about the origin of the expression, with the most popular suggestion that it’s nautical and refers to sailors learning about ropes used on sailing ships. Another suggestion is that it originated in the theatre, where ropes are used for certain types of scenery as well as the curtains. One that’s even less certain is the possible reference to the art of bell-ringing, where a knowledge of both the order of the bells, rung by pulling a rope, and the consequences of ignorance, when a long rope snakes down from a very heavy bell only to suddenly rise again, are potentially lethal!

‘Before I let you loose in the belfry, Jeff, I have to make sure you know the ropes.’

We could say, ‘Before I let you loose in the belfry, Jeff, I need to know whether you have any experience of bell ringing.’

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.

Opia (ancient Greek): The sometimes ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel both invasive and undermining. The word is also used as a suffix in matters to do with the eyes, as in myopia, and presbyopia (a condition afflicting those of a certain age that results in a type of long-sightedness requiring spectacles for reading and close work).

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 contribute a monthly column to an online magazine, Pandora’s Box Gazette where I also deal with the use of words. To take a look, click this link.

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

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2 thoughts on “Looking for the Best Word? Tip #65

    1. Thanks, Bill. I love words, and sharing the info seems to be useful to both writers and language learners, so it’s a no-brainer for me.


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