Looking for the Best Word? Tip #47

background
Word cloud created through Prowritingaid.com

Offering help for writers and language learners, this series of posts is a resource for all word lovers.

This week’s words: Background, Aposiopesis, Almost, A clean slate

Background – Roget’s thesaurus lists these alternative words: circumstance, concomitant, accompanying, distance, surroundings, rear, spectacle, knowledge, information, stage set, and ornamentation. Under the sub-heading ‘information’ are a further 103 replacements including dissemination, data base, hearsay, communication, intimation, common knowledge, factual information, material, lowdown, intelligence, leak and disinformation.

Let’s look at usage for Background:

‘When writing a factual piece, it’s always a good idea to gather as much background information as possible to support any statement.’

‘Brian was so immersed in the background to his study that he forgot the essence of the subject matter when writing his report.’

In common with many English words, this one holds multiple meanings. Here, I’ve concentrated on only one of those interpretations, but I invite you to try your hand at some of the others. It’s good exercise for developing vocabulary.

Figure of speech:

Aposiopesis: meaning to keep silent, this figure of speech, used in writing, is generally marked by an ellipsis (…). Many people think the ellipsis is the figure of speech rather than simply the punctuation mark that indicates it. This figure is used to indicate when a speaker or writer fails to complete a sentence, as though unable or unwilling to conclude it.

‘Sylvia wanted so much to explain why she’d done it, but…’

‘I demand you help me, or I may be forced to…’

Redundancies:

Redundancies are words that serve 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: ‘Almost

‘Geoffrey described Sara as almost perfect.’

‘After an hour’s hard marching, they had almost reached their destination.’

In the first example, I’ve deliberately used ‘almost’ as a qualifier for an absolute. By that, I mean ‘perfect’ is a word without gradation of meaning. Something is either perfect or imperfect, there are no degrees of perfection. In this case, the writer might have used a more precise word: ‘Geoffrey described Sara as a “paragon”, or as “an example of excellence”.’

In the second example, ‘almost reached’ provides the reader with the idea that the marchers are a short distance from their destination. I don’t have a problem with the use of ‘almost’ in this context; it’s acceptable. However, the writer could try, ‘After an hour’s hard marching, they were close to their destination, or they were approaching their destination.’

Cliché: a cliché is a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s been much used and no longer has the power it once held. However, clichés usually come into being because of their original power 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.

A clean slate; an expression meaning to start afresh, to begin with the past eradicated from the record.

‘Although George had a criminal record, his new employer was prepared to let him start with a clean slate.’

Perhaps try: ‘Although George had a criminal record, his new employer was prepared to let him begin as though his past demeanours had never occurred.’

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

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

Looking for the Best Word? Tip #46

weather
Word cloud via Prowritingaid.com

Offering help for writers and language learners, this series of posts is a resource for all word lovers.

This week’s words: Weather, absolutely essential, Sesquipedalianism, Natsukashii

Weather’ belongs to an odd category of words known as contronyms. A contronym is a word that is its own antonym; a word that has two opposing meanings! This one can mean to endure or to be worn away.

Weather – Roget’s thesaurus lists these alternative words: storm, navigate, pulverise, weather, wind, colour, deteriorate, and mature. Under the sub-heading ‘deteriorate’ are a further 96 replacements including worsen, decline, degenerate, disintegrate, wear out, crumble, fester, and go from bad to worse.

Let’s look at usage for weather(ed):

‘There’s confusion over the difference between weather and climate in the debate about global warming. Weather is a phenomenon occurring in a particular place at a particular time. Climate, however, is the pattern of weather expected in any given region.’

‘George wondered if Sara would weather the storm or be defeated by the strength of the wind and waves.’

‘Sara looked out of the porthole and wondered when the weather would calm.’

‘Granite and marble headstones generally weather better than those made of sandstone.’

‘In spite of his life on the farm, Felix had weathered better than Bernard, who had spent most of his time indoors.’

Redundancies:

Redundancies are words that serve 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: ‘absolutely essential

‘Essential’ means ‘required, necessary, indispensable. Something can be either essential or dispensable. The qualifier, ‘absolutely’ is therefore unnecessary. It adds nothing to the meaning and slows the pace of the sentence.

‘Verity had been told by her boss that she was absolutely essential to the project.’ Whilst this may please Verity, the simpler sentence would say exactly the same thing: ‘Verity had been told by her boss that she was essential to the project.’

There’s a slight tendency for the less educated to believe that using long words will make them appear more intelligent. However, such usage often exposes misunderstanding and rarely makes a message clearer.

Sesquipedalianism: the tendency to use long words, especially for effect. To be avoided.

Untranslatable words that express emotions. The world’s languages contain numerous words for emotions (and other things) for which English has no equivalent. I suspect most people are familiar with ‘schadenfreude’, from German, and ‘frisson’, from French, but there are many more, and I’ll introduce some here from time to time.

Natsukashii (Japanese) – A nostalgic yearning for the past, with happiness about the warm memory, but sadness that the past no longer exists.

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

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

Looking for the Best Word? Tip #45

cage
Word Cloud created via Prowritingaid.com

Offering help for writers and language learners, this series of posts is a resource for all word lovers.

This week’s words: Cage. Anaphora. Extremely.

Cage – Roget’s thesaurus lists these alternative words: stable (n), compartment (n), receptacle (n), circumscribe (vb), enclosure (n), enclose (vb), break in (vb), imprison (vb), lock up (n). Under the subheading ‘enclosure’ are a further 69 replacements including envelope, ring, precinct, sheepfold, kraal, circumvallation, and box. Under the subheading ‘enclose’ are another 33 substitutes including fence in, surround, confine, hug, and cuddle.

Let’s look at usage for cage, which can be used as both a noun and a verb:

‘Elvira wiped away a tear as she tried to explain to her loving father that his attempts to protect her placed her in a cage from which she feared there was no escape.’ (n)

‘I cage you to keep the dangers of this world from harming you.’ (vb)

‘If not for the strength of its cage, the lion would roam wild in the zoo, devouring any prey it could find.’ (n)

‘I hate to cage a wild animal and prevent it living the life nature intended.’ (vb)

Figure of speech:

Anaphora: A figure where the same word begins consecutive clauses or sentences.

‘Why belittle her? Why demean her? Why make her life a misery?’

‘Return to your roots, return to those who love you, return to the home you once loved.’

Redundancies:

Redundancies are words that serve 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: ‘extremely

‘Georgina felt extremely tired after her marathon run.’ Try; ‘Georgina was exhausted after her marathon run.’ Or; ‘Running the marathon exhausted Georgina.’ Or; ‘Georgina collapsed with exhaustion at the end of her marathon.’

Strong verbs are usually a better writing option than lazy adverbs.

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

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

Looking for the Best Word? Tip #44

sanction
Word cloud created via Prowritingaid.com

Offering help for writers and language learners, but adding variety to topics covered. This series of posts remains a resource for word lovers but its scope is widening.

My apologies for the late post this week: I was concentrating on getting my latest book, War Over Dust, to the publisher in time for the deadline of 30th June. Did I make it? Watch for my regular weekly post on Progress on the WIP (due next on 5th July)

So, to this week’s words: Sanction, Sehnsucht, 8 a.m. in the morning

‘Sanction’ belongs to an odd category of words known as contronyms. A contronym is a word that is its own antonym; a word that has two opposing meanings! This one can mean to officially approve (an action), or to impose a penalty on (often for an action).

Let’s look at usage for sanction:

‘The Minister for War sanctioned the use of chemical weapons on the protesting peasants, in the hope it would stop their irritating movement against the use of illegal powers.’

‘Trade and financial sanctions against despotic regimes are often used in an attempt to bring them in line with democratic and fair treatment of their populations.’

Redundancies:

Redundancies are words that serve 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: ‘8 a.m. in the morning

The acronym, ‘a.m.’ stands for ante meridiem, which is Latin for ‘before noon’. The morning is ‘before noon’, so you need write either, ‘8 a.m.’ or ‘8 o’clock in the morning’, but ‘8 a.m. in the morning’ expresses the same idea twice, and is therefore unnecessary, or redundant.

Untranslatable words that express emotions. The world’s languages contain numerous words for emotions (and other things) for which English has no equivalent. I suspect most people are familiar with ‘schadenfreude’, from German, and ‘frisson’, from French, but there are many more, and I’ll introduce some here from time to time.

Sehnsucht (German)– ‘life-longings’, a powerful desire for alternative states and apprehensions of life, even if they are out of reach.

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

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

Looking for the Best Word? Tip #43

ambiguous
Word cloud created via Prowritingaid.com

Some changes from today. Still offering help for writers and language learners, but adding some variety to the topics covered. This series of posts will remain a resource for word lovers but will expand its scope.

So, to this week’s words: Ambiguous 

Ambiguous – Roget lists these headers: unconformable, double, countervailing, uncertain, semantic, puzzling, equivocal, false, and unclear. Under the sub-heading ‘equivocal’ are a further 18 alternatives including ambivalent, double, two-edged, prevaricating, vague, evasive, and anagrammatic.

Let’s look at usage for ambiguous:

‘We wondered whether the wording of the statement was accidentally ambiguous or simply a way of obscuring the speaker’s true meaning.’

‘Joe thought Janet’s dress sent an ambiguous message; the short length inviting his attention but the high neckline suggesting a wish to be concealed.’

‘Janet considered Joe’s concentration on her legs ambiguous; was he admiring her shapely pins or was lust uppermost?’

Books of words
Books of words I have on my shelf, and sometimes use!

Redundancies:

Redundancies are words that serve 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: ‘actually’

‘Actually, I don’t need to use “actually” to express the meaning of this sentence.’

‘Jason actually walked all the way home.’

‘Jennifer was actually sick of being treated like a fool.’

Figure of speech:

Anadiplosis; beginning a sentence or clause with the last, or any other significant, word from the preceding sentence or clause.

‘Off you go to school. School is where you will learn most.’

‘Rose slipped the gown over her skin, skin so soft and pale.’

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

Resources:

The Writer’s Lexicon.  Wordweb software.  Oxford Dictionaries.

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

Looking for the Best Word? Tip #42

blatant
Word cloud generated via Prowritingaid.com

Here’s some help for writers who want to make their work more interesting, varied, accurate and effective by using the most appropriate words. There are also insights into some peculiarities of English for language students.

A good thesaurus will provide substitutes for the idea of a word, but not all these are true synonyms: context is vital. Check suitability by putting synonyms into a sentence to test if they make sense. This isn’t foolproof, however, so a good dictionary is also essential.

My dictionary of choice is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I prefer the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection, though my copy is showing signs of wear. I’ve installed WordWeb on my Mac for when I’m in a hurry and the appropriate word escapes me. And I’ve downloaded the Kindle edition of Kathy Steinemann’s ‘The Writer’s Lexicon’ to consult whilst editing my fiction, so I can inject more variety.

However, I attempt to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise, which I need on a regular basis! Many other books of words, which I occasionally consult when a word evades me, live on reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s word: Blatant

Blatant – Roget lists these headers: flagrant, well-known, vulgar, vain, showy, and insolent. Under the sub-heading ‘flagrant’ are a further 9 alternatives including glaring, stark, staring, shocking, and discreditable.

And the SOED defines ‘blatant’ as: Orig., noisy, clamorous, noticeably loud. Now usu., obtrusive, lacking in subtlety, obvious; (of bad behaviour) openly and unashamed.

Let’s look at usage for blatant:

‘In condemning terrorists whilst engaging in the weapons trade with supporters of terrorism, the Prime Minister displayed blatant hypocrisy.’

‘Terry strode confidently into the party, helped himself to food and drink, and chatted up the girls, showing blatant disregard for his lack of an invitation.’

‘In blatant disobedience of the “No swimming” sign, Emerald stripped off her clothes and plunged into the lake.’

‘Blatant’ is a word of power, suggestive of a rebellious spirit, but also a condemnatory adjective when applied to attitudes and behaviour that cause offence.

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

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

Looking for the Best Word? Tip #41

Alliteration
Word cloud created via Prowritingaid.com

Here’s a bit of help for writers who want to make their work more interesting, varied, accurate and effective by using the most appropriate words. There are also insights into some peculiarities of English for those learning the language.

A good thesaurus gives substitutes for the idea of a word, but not all are true synonyms: context is vital. Check suitability by placing synonyms into a sentence to test if they make sense. But this isn’t foolproof, so a good dictionary is also essential.

My dictionary of choice is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I prefer the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection. Though my copy is now showing signs of wear. I’ve installed WordWeb on my Mac for when I’m in a hurry and the apposite word evades me. And I’ve downloaded the Kindle edition of Kathy Steinemann’s ‘The Writer’s Lexicon’ to consult whilst editing my fiction, so I can inject more variety.

However, I attempt to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise, which I need on a regular basis! Many other books of words, which I occasionally consult when a word escapes me, live on reference shelves behind me.

So, to this week’s word: Alliteration

Alliteration is a figure of speech in which closely connected words begin with the same letter of the alphabet. It’s a device commonly used in poetry, but its use in prose can be effective in creating mood or tone, and may emphasise the subject of the sentence.

Alliteration – Roget lists these headers: assimilation, recurrence, ornament, and prosody. Under the sub-heading ‘recurrence’ are a further 41 alternatives including repetitiveness, succession, atavism, rhythm, assonance, monotony and routine.

Examples of alliteration:

‘Doggedly, David donated dollars to Doris despite her denial of devotion to him.’

‘Sylvie’s silken skin sent shivers of sensuality snaking over Sydney.’

‘Clive’s crass chorus of chanting cowboys created a cacophony of coarse chords clattering across the chamber.’

Hopefully, no one would actually use such examples. But I’m deep into editing a novel at present, and my poor creative mind is embedded in the story I’m creating, so my capacity for creating competent content here is currently confined. Sorry!

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

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