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Synonyms Are Beautiful, As Well As Admirable, Alluring, Angelic, Appealing, Beauteous, And More

By Author: Steve Davis
Total Articles: 38

Spanish Jesuit and author, Baltasar Gracian once said that "a synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the other one." Obviously, he was writing before spell check. Way before, as it turns out, since his greatest work, CRITICON, was published in three parts in the 1650's. Wikipedia describes it as "a lengthy allegorical novel with philosophical overtones."
Hmmm. Did he use his thesaurus to write it? It is possible. Although Roget's thesaurus was not published until 1852, Philo of Byblos was collecting synonyms in the first and second centuries of the common era. So, Gracian may have had access to something.
It was nothing like what is available to modern writers, who merely have to type a word into a search function to come up with alternatives. Why, why don't so many of them do it?
Repeated words ruin the flow of prose. They make it clumsy. Here's an example: It was a beautiful day. Clare could not believe how beautiful the flowers were in her garden. In particular, her multi-colored day lilies seemed to capture the beauty of the day. Orange-, yellow- and peach-colored blossoms made a beautiful display against the blue sky.
Here is the same graph employing synonyms: It was a dazzling day. Clare could not believe how beautiful the flowers were in her garden. In particular, her multi-colored day lilies seemed to capture the essence of the morning. Orange-, yellow- and peach-colored blossoms made a brilliant display against the blue sky.
The second paragraph avoids the clunkiness of the first. And since synonyms are not identical in meaning, sifting through them to determine which best captures exactly what you want to say will make your prose richer. Dazzling is a synonym for beautiful, but a dazzling day is different from a beautiful one. Dazzling connotes a freshness or newness, as well as bright sunshine. A beautiful day is merely pleasing to the eye.
That being said, a writer can go too far with synonyms. Searching the thesaurus for big and important sounding words can make the writer sound affected. It can also lead to misused words. In this version of the paragraph, the use of synonyms has gone wrong: Clare could not believe how statuesque the flowers were in her garden. In particular, the multiple chromaticity of her day lilies seemed to capture the refulgence of the day. Orange-, yellow- and peach-colored blossoms made a splendiferous display against the beryl sky.
So maybe, to put a twist on the quote from Baltasar Gracian above, you should not use a synonym, you (and your spell check) cannot spell.

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