The #Write #Word? Post 19

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Sometimes struggle to find the ‘right’ word for your writing? I do. Maybe, in trying to improve my own work, I can help other writers.

Today’s words: Loathsome/Pleasant, Less/Fewer, Lap of luxury, Limply, Lawyer

Antonyms: words that express the opposite of other words can be hard to find, because thesauruses usually give no examples. When lost for such opposites, I reach for ‘The New Nuttall Dictionary of English Synonyms and Antonyms’ published 1986, which generally solves my dilemma.


Loathsome: Roget’s lists the following synonyms; unsavoury, not nice, unpleasant, ugly, disliked, and hateful. Under ‘unpleasant’ are another 58 variants including disagreeable, unattractive, distasteful, foul, ghastly, obnoxious, and repellent.

Pleasant: Under this listing in Roget are the following headers; pleasant, pleasurable, and amusing. And ‘pleasant’ provides 34 more alternatives including pleasing, delightful, nice, agreeable, delicious, sweet, and lovely.

Usage for Loathsome:

‘Jacob, a spoilt offspring of the privileged classes, was considered the most loathsome employer in the city by his employees. He salted away his profits in tax havens, whilst paying his workers a pittance for their labour.’

Here, we could substitute ‘disagreeable’, ‘distasteful’, ‘foul’, ‘ghastly’, ‘obnoxious’ and ‘repellent’ for ‘loathsome’ without substantially altering the sense. However, my choice would remain with ‘loathsome’ as it better expresses the dislike associated with the subject’s meanness.

Usage for Pleasant:

‘Caroline, an intelligent and well-educated woman, is a sensible leader. Her agreeable persona and rational approach to problems make her a pleasant person to deal with on all levels.’

Here, we could use ‘pleasing’, ‘delightful’ ‘agreeable’ and even ‘lovely’ in place of ‘pleasant’. But I hope, as writers, we’d avoid the equally appropriate, but insipid ‘nice’ whenever possible!

Words often misused: because it has stolen terms from many languages, English often uses words that superficially appear to mean something similar. However, as wordsmiths, we owe it to our readers to get it right, don’t you think?

Less/Fewer: this is a popular target for the grammar police, but the distinction is gradually reducing due to careless common usage. As writers, we can either sink to the lowest common denominator or use these two words correctly. Up to us. When describing the amount or quantity of something, ‘less’ is the right term: less tea, less whisky, less law. It means ‘a smaller amount’. ‘Fewer’ is right when comparing numbers: fewer people, fewer drinks, fewer laws. So, less work produces fewer words. Hopefully, as a writer, you wouldn’t refer to fewer tea, fewer law, but every day some professional journalist writes or broadcasts ‘less houses are being built’.

Cliché: a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s so overused it no longer holds power. However, clichés come into being as the result of their original and effective ability to describe a situation or quality in apposite terms. Their use should be sparing: in dialogue, they’re fine, providing the speaker would use them. They are words or expressions we’ve all encountered more times than…Here, I could use a cliché to illustrate what a cliché might be.

Lap of luxury: an expression meaning ease, wealth, privilege.

‘Boris, born into the lap of luxury, remains ignorant of the lives of the ordinary people who worked hard to produce his good fortune.’

Better, perhaps: ‘Boris, born into a family of wealth and power, remains ignorant of the lives of the ordinary people who worked hard to produce his good fortune.’

Adverbs: words we all use incredibly often, lazily taking the easy route instead of diligently looking for stronger verbs.

Limply: we’ve all come across limp lettuce, but, thankfully, the ‘limp handshake’ that used to be an insulting reference to homosexual men has mostly disappeared. And ‘limply’ is a word that looks and sounds unpleasant rather than insipid, don’t you think?

‘Under the searing heat of the desert noon, flowers hung limply, dying from lack of water.’

Better: ‘Under the searing heat of the desert noon, flowers drooped from lack of water.’  We could also use the verbs, ‘wilted’ and ‘flopped’ here in place of the cliché.

And, my own, sometimes humorous, sometimes metaphorical, definition of some common words for your entertainment, which I’ll list under The Delusional Dictionary.

Lawyer: any of a huge number of professionals dedicated to making the law as complex as possible to ensure they can continue to charge enormous fees to solve otherwise simple matters; a member of the UK Parliament, usually taking up the role to continue the practice of adding more unnecessary laws to the canon to ensure the clan can make more money; a person capable of constructing a complicated and endless maze from a simple passage.

Language learners might find this link useful for pronunciation, 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 see the most recent, please click this link.

Your observations and suggestions are welcome in the comments section below. And, if you’ve enjoyed this post, why not use the buttons to share it with your friends? Thank you.