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fear of the sun
merry way
Synonyms Are Snapshots - A Discussion Of Words
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Synonyms Are Snapshots  -  A Discussion Of Words

Little lackluster is the golden chain

Fear of the sun beguiles the shimmer

A tear carries more valiant luster

If it catches and savors inferno

Who spits flame for the sake of tears

So that sorrow may outshine days?

Infinite suns and infinite stars

Are come


It's strange, but I don't think I've ever had a problem with my vocabulary.

When I wrote my first poem (the aforementioned), I used words I'd read only once or twice before, shoving a handsome number of them between its meager four stanzas. It came out alright--I understood it then about as well as I understand it now--which is to say, not at all--but whenever I look back at the poem, there is one thing the old me did that does the current me proud.

And that is the vocabulary I used.

I mean, who calls luster "valiant"? What difference is there between a "sun" and a "star" that they need to be two separate phrases? And they weren't "coming"; they were "come".

Was I some kind of genius?

I didn't think so back then, and I still don't think so now. But I didn't exactly pause at every line to ask someone else for a new word, and I didn't exactly browse the web for new words, either.

The secret?

Well, I cheated.

I don't know all that many words. What I know is a lot of synonyms for the words I'm familiar with--and I'm damned good at using the words I'm familiar with.

Tell me, why study the definition of numerous words when you could study one word and just swap its clothes as needed? There's no argument for it. A synonyms dictionary, I declare, beats a real dictionary any day.

Actually, when I'm in the zone, no dictionary is required.

Writers out there definitely know what I'm talking about. You write some strange paragraph of awesomeness, put it away, and a week later you look at it and cock your head back in disbelief.

"I wrote that?" you say to yourself. "I used the word hubris? Dear me, goodness gracious, oh my."

And it's true. You could have just said pride or arrogance and been on your merry way--but you didn't. You said hubris. You used a synonym.

You cheated too.

Don't look so surprised. It doesn't take much to build that kind of a repertoire. We start doing it the moment we learn how to read. We read books and copy the way certain words are being used. The more we read, the more big words we use, and the better we get at using them. It's all a matter of reading more; every good writer I know has done this.

Of course, you could just reference a synonyms dictionary. There's probably an app for that. But the thing about reading is that it comes with a number of perks other than just a wide vocabulary. Reading gives you the tools to become a greater writer overall; to structure sentences masterfully, utilize metaphors, put meaning behind meanings, and build works that would do your future self proud.

It all comes from studying how other people do it. Reading and learning are...synonymous.

So start reading. And I don't mean a synonyms dictionary, I mean real books. There's a wealth of fantastic words out there--use them. Say "elegant" when you mean "fancy". Add "quite" and "perfectly" before adverbs. Hubris sounds so much more invigorating, doesn't it? And it's kind of a euphemism too, so I don't have to shirk when talking about my own.

"Hm! I fear his hubris has enveloped him quite fully today."


Okay, that sounded corny. I fear my hubris is in need of a rest.

In conclusion: synonyms matter, and not just in the business of avoiding repetition. They're the proof we need to know that we're never that far ahead of our previous selves. All the writing we're doing now, however much we currently disdain it, will become wonderful verbal snapshots later on.

Street Talk

Fantabulous article! Excellent, even ;-)

  about 1 decade ago
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