For years there was a myth circulating the internet that there are 100 Inuit words for snow. While this idea has been discredited for more than a decade, the idea that one word can have dozens of synonyms rings true. Synonyms, which are words that have the same or similar definition as other words, are ever present in languages around the world.
The History of the Synonym
The first modern English-language thesaurus, a book that lists thousands of words and their synonyms, wasn’t written until 1852. But, synonyms have been a part of oral expression for thousands of years. Their existence is partly due to languages coming in contact with one another.
The Norman conquest of England brought 10,000 French words into the English language. As the French ruled, so did their fashion, which brought words like embellish and adorn. The Old English, rather, used the word “trim” when talking about decorating something. Trim came from the Old English word, trymman/trymian, which meant to make firm or to arrange.
Today, we use embellish, adorn and trim in slightly different contexts, but each of them are also synonyms for “to decorate.” Another reason languages have synonyms is to give a clear image of a nuanced situation.
Walking doesn’t paint the same picture as striding or ambling or waddling. Each insinuates moving forward in a certain manner. Wander could be the best choice for someone exploring a field of thin, cream-petaled daisies. Trudge, for a muddy uphill hike.
Getting Creative with Word Choice
Synonyms are key when trying to add some oomph to your writing. Luckily there are related words for almost every word in the dictionary. There are even words that can replace synonym and thesaurus. A synonym can also be called an equivalent or copy, while a thesaurus’ synonyms are wordfinder, wordbook, or synonym dictionary.
Ten examples of synonyms include:
- Important: critical, essential, crucial, paramount, significant
- Amazing: awesome, incredible, marvelous, wonderful, astonishing
- Good: pleasant, fine, satisfactory, virtuous, acceptable
- Bad: atrocious, lousy, awful, crummy, dreadful
- Beautiful: attractive, gorgeous, stunning, lovely, pretty
- Run: sprint, scamper, scuttle, dash, dart
- Happy: joyful, cheerful, jolly, merry, delighted
- Sad: sorrowful, dejected, miserable, down, despairing
- Scared: Panicky, nervous, frightened, worried, terrified
- Different: Contrasting, divergent, opposed, unrelated, unlike
Now, it’s your turn. Try writing down 5-7 common words you know and see how many synonyms you can come up with off the top of your head. How is each of the words you found different from one another?
Making Sense of Synonyms
Answering the question “what is a synonym?” is just one piece of employing this tool in everyday language. Agitated and enthusiastic are both synonyms meaning slightly different things. A writer will likely use agitated to describe a suspect being interviewed by the police and enthusiastic to depict a group of kindergarteners waiting in line for a bounce house.
James Joyce, the author of Ulysses, was well-known for his glacial writing pace that averaged at 90 words per day. His 712-page book, Finnegan’s Wake, is said to have taken him fourteen years. And this is not because Joyce suffered from daily writer’s block, but rather because he was meticulous in his word choice.
When writing, the right word can make all the difference. Finding a synonym can be as easy as cracking open your nearest thesaurus or conducting a quick Google search. But improving your vocabulary to include synonymous terms for common words will mean less searching and more writing.
You can boost your synonym vocabulary by reading books outside of your preferred genre, learning a new word each day with a word of the day calendar, or even by studying the Latin roots of words you already know. Improving your writing skills by doing a ten day journaling challenge will give you the opportunity to work with the synonyms you learned.
The Magic of Word Choice
Writing is all about conveying a certain message to your reader. If you’re writing a fantasy novel about a scraggly-haired ex-princess who teamed up with the neighborhood dragon, you want your readers to easily imagine their unconventional undertakings.
A golden, red-tongued dragon with opal spikes lining its spine will provide a much different picture than a sooty, black-toothed dragon with silver irises and perpetually curled lips. Sit for a second and imagine the personality traits one dragon might sport compared to the other. Which would be more trustworthy? Which is more wise or courageous?
An example of synonyms improving your writing could be exchanging very mean with hostile or very happy with overjoyed. By taking special care in choosing your words, you can strengthen your writing skills and create vivid phrases that strongly convey the story you’re telling.
Selecting Your Synonyms
With some words having hundreds of synonyms, it might feel overwhelming to choose the right synonym for each situation. When crafting a personal essay, the words you chose have an intimate relationship with the experience you’re sharing.
A gratifying hike through the Andes, might make for a personal essay that includes positive, informal language. By focusing on your voice, point of view, audience, and theme when picking each word, you’ll finish with a cohesive piece.
Opposites In Fact: Synonyms and Antonyms
Day and night. Sweet and salty. Wet and dry. These opposites, grammatically known as antonyms, can be just as powerful when used as a writing tool as they can in real life. A shiny, white star will seem even brighter against a dark, night sky. A spicy, green curry will taste even more flavourful next to plain rice.
Juxtaposition is a writing tool where by placing two contrasting ideas next to each other, their differences become even more evident. By using basic writing skills and tools like juxtaposition, synonyms, analogies, and more, you’ll be able to have a greater effect on your readers.
Writing Rightly With Synonyms
A 1,000 page book is written exactly the same way as a 1,000 word article: one word at a time. By taking the time to choose each word you employ in your writing, each will help provide an even more vivid image of what you’re writing.
Continue to build your synonym vocabulary by always looking up words you don’t know and even by creating your own thesaurus. Start by keeping note of the synonyms you learned today and keep adding words as you learn and grow as a writer.
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Creative Writing for All: A 10-Day Journaling Challenge