choosing the right word (word up!)

My kids love this show on PBS called “Word Girl”. It is so freaking adorable, and it’s at least an educational show for them to watch. It’s all about a super hero who solves crimes by using her fabulous vocabulary skills. The theme song is funny, too.

So I sometimes watch it with them, and sometimes it’s just background noise. But I have to admit, I have learned a thing or two from World Girl. Not because she introduces words I don’t know, but because she gives a more in-depth definition than you might get from a dictionary. Word Girl often explains, in detail, the connotation of a word, along with its definition, and that is when she truly shines. Learning this deeper meaning really helps kids absorb the vocabulary, makes it come alive for them and assures they’ll remember it. Word Girl is awesome.

When I’m writing, I frequently click the thesaurus, so as not to overuse any particular word. But often, the new word I choose is not quite right. The issue is that synonyms are never perfectly synonymous. There are always little associations and implications that come with a word. Sometimes these are true variations of definition, and sometimes just a matter of personal interpretation. Not to mention the whole issue of how a word sounds, the syllabic and phonetic “feelings” it creates.

When I was in college, my  mother gave me this book. Sadly, I think it was wrapped up as part of a stack of birthday gifts. Even worse, I remember I was grateful and I loved it. (If my memory is accurate, that year I also received Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs and my own copy of Perterson’s Field Guide to the Birds. What can I say? I like reference books.)

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This book is old (like me) and there is probably a newer, better version, or an app, or something. But I’m poor and none-too-bright, so I still use this one. Though I don’t use it as much as I did in college. (my vocabulary has happily increased since then)

It is a good reference for discerning the subtle differences between similar words. For instance, gobbledegook vs. gibberish. Or award vs. confer vs. grant. Amplify vs. augment. Hopelessness vs. despondency.

And though I’m not such a geek as to admit to reading the dictionary, I will confess I’ve done more than a casual flip-through of this reference. I think Word Girl would approve.

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