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05/15/2012

Fun With Synonyms

Yet another reason writing can be difficult is the challenge involved in choosing just the right word. Suppose you want to describe someone who is above her ideal weight. Is that person plump? Heavy? Flabby? Chunky? Fat, obese, huge, big, bigger, corpulent? Chubby, fleshy, portly, solid, hefty? Zaftig? Rubenesque, voluptuous, full-figured, curvy? You can immediately see that many of these words convey different ideas; some differences are slight, and some are significant. Because your job as a writer is to deliver information as accurately as possible, it’s important to choose terms that paint the picture you are trying to create.

A thesaurus is helpful here, of course, with a warning: don’t choose a word you aren’t already comfortable using. If you choose one you don’t know just because it sounds impressive, you could end up confusing the reader with a word that does not at all communicate your intended meaning.

If you’re creating your document in MS Word, you could also try the handy thesaurus feature. Let’s say you want to describe your large housecat as “stout,” but you decide that doesn’t properly depict what you’re going for. You can place the cursor in the middle of the word “stout” and hit Shift+F7, and a list of synonyms will pop up. You can further choose any one of those synonyms to look up, resulting in even more options. Using this method, you might finally settle on “rotund,” which you think perfectly captures your cat’s combination of remarkable size and stately presence. The same caution applies here; only choose a word you already know well. Remember, you’re looking for just the right word, not an obscure or “smart” one.

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