Blog Archive

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Synonym Sophistication

A thesaurus is a great tool for adding variety to your writing (See Variety is the Spice of Writing 1/19/2012).  Once you develop the habit of seeking alternatives to the words that you find yourself using far too often, you’ll want to develop the more intricate practice of noticing the nuance differences between synonyms.  For example, if you look up the word “smart” in a thesaurus, you will see a list of words that have meaning similarities such as: astute, sharp, shrewd, clever, wise, intelligent, bright, sassy and with-it.  It is terrific to have such a selection but it’s important to understand that these words are not all totally interchangeable.  You should know that “shrewd” implies dishonesty, “wise” is generally used to describe people who are older and have more life experience and “with-it” is informal and used primarily in speaking.   With a standard thesaurus, however, you will not get much information regarding such differences between these words. 

Fortunately there are tools that you can use to get further information without looking up each individual word.  One tool that I recommend is the Longman Language Activator.  The Language Activator is a combination dictionary and thesaurus which groups similar words together to show differences through examples and usage notes.  It also includes phrases and other collocations for each meaning. 

Another tool that I like is the Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus.  This is a subscription service that displays synonym groups in a visual map, distinguishing nuance meanings in a clear and easy to use format.   The map for the word, “smart” looks like this.

You can click on each of the circles for more information about each group of words.  The annual subscription for the service is $19.95 but there is a free trial.
So explore some new tools and work to add sophistication to your vocabulary by choosing the best word for every situation. 

For more on great techniques to increase your vocabulary, see Variety is the Spice of Writing.

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