Looking for the Best Word? Tip #66

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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: Rabid, Paradox, Quite, Needless to say, Tarab,

Rabid – Roget’s thesaurus lists the following headers for this adjective: furious, frenzied, excitable, and angry. Under the sub-heading ‘frenzied’ are a further 41 alternatives including maddened, foaming at the mouth, wild, possessed, demented, uncontrollable, hysterical, raving and rambling.

Let’s look at usage for rabid:

The adjective is derived from the noun, rabies, which is a disease of mammals that almost always results in death. It is also the source of the phrase ‘foaming at the mouth’, which is a symptom of animals infected by the disease.

‘The rabid remarks of racists are the result of prejudice, itself, the result of ignorance and fear.’

‘Wendy attacked her pursuer like a rabid dog, convinced he was bent on robbing her.’

In sentence one we might use ‘wild’, ‘demented’ or hysterical’ in place of ‘rabid’, without altering the meaning too profoundly. However, the use of other substitutes would require a restructuring of the sentence.

In the second sentence, ‘rabid’ could be substituted by ‘raving’, but none of the other choices would do. A rabid dog is singular animal, and one to be avoided at all costs!

Figure of speech: Paradox

A paradox is a self-contradictory statement. It can also refer to a situation that appears to defy logic. There are a number of well-known paradoxes. I like the barber paradox: ‘In a village, the barber shaves everyone who does not shave him/herself, but no one else.’ The paradox? ‘Who shaves the barber?’

And another: ‘What is better than eternal bliss? Nothing. But a slice of bread is better than nothing. Therefore, a slice of bread is better than eternal bliss.’

I’ll leave it to you to play with these ideas.


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: ‘Quite

‘Quite’ is a word that has the same mushy, indistinct meaning as ‘nice’. It tells us nothing of consequence.

‘Mary is quite pretty, don’t you think?’ Does this mean the writer/speaker believes Mary is pretty? Or is it shorthand for ‘Mary is plain.’? Much better to be honest and describe what is actually on our minds. ‘Mary has a pretty face.’ Or, ‘Mary is a woman most men would never notice in a crowd.’

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.

Needless to say:

What can I say about this? What do I need to say? If it’s ‘needless’ to say it, why bother? Nothing but a spacer, and writers should avoid it.

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.

Tarab (Arabic): A musically induced state of enchantment or ecstasy.

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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