Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Synonyms and Non-Synonyms

What is my most-visited website after Facebook, Gmail, Youtube, and my blog? My bank website, and xkcd. Okay, but after that it's a thesaurus! Because synonyms are one of my favorite things about language. Using them to get the exact right connotation with every word so that your exact meaning comes across and you have very clear language in the right style...ah. It's beautiful.

For example if your protagonist is smiling at someone they don't like you can say they're smirking. Or if someone is beautiful and also curvy you can call them sumptuous, but a beautiful skinny girl would be delicate or dainty.

(I realize now after rereading that paragraph that those are all three superficial examples. What does that say about me? Hm.)

What I don't like is when people use words interchangeably that are not synonyms. The problem with talking about these is that there's no word for them, because they aren't antonyms either, they're just non-synonyms.

As some of you may know, I work at a pizza parlor. While the word "parlor" may conjure up some classy image (especially if I spell it parlour as I'm used to seeing it since it's more in use in the UK than the US these days), let me assure you, this place is not. It seems like every other week I go in and we've changed one of the ingredients we use and it's a downgrade to save money.

What bugs me about on the same level as that is the customers who like to be argumentative about things, one of which, recently, was the use of the word "fresh." She told me she wanted fresh tomatoes on a pizza that comes with fresh tomatoes, and I pointed out they were always fresh. She said, "No, I mean don't cook them." So in my head while I was writing this down for the cooks I was thinking about how "fresh" wasn't the right word in that instance, because all the tomatoes we put on that pizza were sliced by hand in the store. The correct word would have been "raw."

And now some of you may be clicking on that thesaurus link and typing in "fresh" and finding that one of the synonyms is in fact "raw," and that is the danger of using only a knowledge tool without also using your brain. Technically they are similar, and can be used as synonyms in some situations, but this is not one of them. Since the tomatoes were not canned or frozen before ending up on the pizza, they would be considered fresh whether they were put on before or after baking them, whereas doing so changes whether they're raw.

So when using a thesaurus, if you find a word you don't know but it sounds cool and intelligent, don't just use it. Look it up on its own in the dictionary, and find out exactly how it's related to what you're going for. It may not actually be a fit.

What really got me is later when I read it back to her (and read it incorrectly when I had it written correctly because I'm so very bad at verbal communication), she corrected me, saying, "No, I want fresh tomatoes." So I gave her a blank look for a second and said, "Okay. You don't want the tomatoes cooked." Since I had already expressed my confusion when she used the word fresh and driving the point home more so than in a passive rewording would just have gotten me in trouble.

Can you tell I'm ready to be making money from books instead? Working for and with people who care about clarity and knowledge instead of consuming vast amounts of grease?

Tell me about a time you were annoyed at work.

"Why are your pizzas so expensive? It's a racket!"
"Because a large here would feed ten of me. This isn't Pizza Hut."
The background here is red because of the crappy red lighting at my work, which occasionally makes me want to stab someone, but more frequently just gives me a headache.


  1. When I put on the "way back" machine, I remember this one supervisor who annoyed the crap out of me. One day he wanted me to retype some report, then proceeded to stand behind me while I fixed it (yes, this was on an actual typewriter - told you it went "way back."). I stopped typing and leaned back in my chair and told him, "I won't do this if you're going to watch." I mean, if he had that kind of time, why didn't he just fix it himself? Right??

    At least I never worked where I had to deal with customers. My kids have, and they constantly whined about how stupid so many people were!

    So, do you own The Synonym Finder? It's a great book!

    1. I do not own it. I'll have to check it out!

  2. I do love a good thesaurus. ;)

  3. Once, I read someone's work...it just sounded like they looked up synonyms for every other word so they'd sound more intelligent. At some point I just asked, "Isn't your protagonist a YA? Why would they talk like this?"

    I've been very annoyed at work. I used to be a cashier, and I absolutely cannot stand when people do not hand me money even if my hand is out and ready. :/ Customers also had a habit of ramming my trashcan. I literally watched them run at me with their basket. lol.

    1. Hah! Of course the key to any good tool is to know when and how to use it...

      That sounds really frustrating.