Our abounding English language brims with synonyms – The San Diego Union-Tribune


I’m kicking off 2022 with a three-part series on enriching your vocabulary and, as a result, your ability to communicate. In the process of enhancing your word wealth, you will expand your thoughts and your feelings, your speaking and your reading and your writing — everything that makes up you.
During the early years of space exploration, NASA scientist Wernher von Braun gave many speeches on the wonders and promises of rocketry and space flight. After one of his luncheon talks, von Braun found himself clinking cocktail glasses with an adoring woman from the audience.
“Dr. von Braun,” the woman gushed, “I just loved your speech, and I found it of absolutely infinitesimal value!”
“Well then,” he gulped, “I guess I’ll have to publish it posthumously.”
“Oh, yes,” the woman came right back. “And the sooner the better!”
Now there was someone who needed to gain greater control over her vocabulary. But, realizing the power that words confer on our lives, don’t we all wish that we could build a better vocabulary?
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once declared that “language is the skin of living thought.” Holmes recognized that just as our skin bounds and encloses our body, so does our vocabulary bound and enclose our mental life.
Mark Twain’s novels and short stories speak to us across the centuries because they embody their author’s declaration “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”

Suppose you wish to describe something of great size. You can haul out those two old standbys big and large. But, if you possess an extensive vocabulary, you can press into service an army of more powerful and muscular adjectives: tremendous, immense, enormous, huge, vast or gigantic.
If, in addition to size, you wish to convey the suggestion of solidity and immovability, you can conscript words such as massive, bulky, unwieldy, jumbo, elephantine and mountainous. If you want to create an image of clumsiness, you can press into service the likes of lumbering and ponderous. Hulking, looming and monstrous add a sense of threat to the impression of size, while mighty, towering and colossal indicate that the magnitude inspires awe.
It’s a matter of simple mathematics: The more words you know, the more choices you can make. The more choices you can make, the more accurate, vivid and versatile your speaking and writing will be.
I own the world’s worst thesaurus. Not only is it awful. It’s awful. Then somebody stole my thesaurus. To whoever did that, you made my day bad. I hope bad things happen to you. You’re a bad person. Now I have no words to describe how bad I feel.
Nonetheless, I love to collect thesaurus jokes:

Speaking of synonyms, I regret to inform you that yesterday, a senior editor of Roget’s Thesaurus assumed room temperature, bit the dust, bought the farm, breathed his last, came to the end of the road, cashed in his chips, called it quits, checked out, cooled off, croaked, deep sixed, departed this life, expired, finished out the row, flatlined, gave up the ghost, headed for the hearse, headed for the last roundup, kicked off, kicked the bucket, lay down one last time, lay with the lilies, left this mortal plane, met the Grim Reaper, met his maker, met Mr. Jordan, passed away, passed on, pegged out, perished, permanently changed his address, pulled the plug, pushed up daisies, rested in peace, rested under the sod, returned to dust, rang the knell, slipped his cable, shuffled off this mortal coil, sprouted wings, took a dirt nap, took the long count, traveled to kingdom come, turned up his toes, went across the creek, went belly up, went to glory, went kaput, went the way of all flesh, went to his final reward, went west — and, of course, he died.
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