Sometimes you can’t find the right word and it would make all the difference. It’s like having the wrong size battery in your flashlight: what doesn’t fit will not illuminate.
Mark Twain, in the midst of an essay deploring the stories of James Fenimore Cooper, offered a series of rules for writing that include: “Use the right word, not its second cousin.”
One way you can tell you are using a second cousin is that you stick a qualifier in front of it. More and more we are seeing these qualified constructions as media outlets lay off the editors who normally would snuff them.
Here are some examples of “qualifier+ second cousin” followed by a better word choice, though usage will depend on context:
Extremely surprised -> shocked
Quite irritated -> annoyed
A bit sad -> subdued/sober
Very excited -> thrilled
Very disappointed -> crestfallen
Somewhat disappointed -> disappointed
(Sometimes the solution is to keep the word and lose the qualifier.)
These are easy fixes. In the old days you could poke around in the pages of your faded copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, but now online thesauruses offer answers in a flash.
LEARN: Read Twain’s essay on “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” here.
USE: Pick the right word for these three passages:
1. From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass, and the [xxx] was complete.”
2. From a haiku by the 17th-century master Matsuo Basho: “an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the [xxx] of water”.
Answers posted tomorrow – at the bottom of ‘O’