Sunday, January 15, 2012



A synonym is supposed to be any word that means the same as another word. But I don’t think there is any such thing. I don’t believe that kind of synonym exists.

Okay, I need to qualify that assertion. Technically, a synonym is “a word or phrase that has a meaning the same as, or very close to, that of another word or phrase.” So if your definition of a synonym includes words with similar meanings, then yes, I believe in synonyms.

But when you consider the meaning of a word, you need to consider both its denotation and its connotation. The denotation is the primary, literal meaning of a word. The connotation is the suggested or implied meaning of a word. Connotations usually come from experience or associations. Seeing a word used repeatedly in certain contexts gives the word a different color than it gets in the dictionary.

Connotations may even have accidental origins. Simply because one word looks like another word or shares the same syllable, even if technically the two words aren’t related, we tend to associate them together. For me, amazement carries some of the connotation of magic, partly because of its second syllable. And the sound of a word unconsciously influences its connotation. The word disgust would be a weaker word without the coughing, gagging g, the hissing, sneering s, and the spitting t.

Because I believe strongly in connotations, I don’t believe in synonyms. Because every word has a unique connotation, no word has exactly the same meaning as another. For example, the Random House Unabridged Dictionary uses as examples of synonyms the words joyful, elated, glad. But each of those three words has a different connotation! To me, joyful connotes Christmas (“Joy to the World”), a deep sense of happiness. The word glad carries a connotation of satisfaction. Elated, from the Latin word elatus or “raised,” has the more extreme connotation of excitement.

Each of those three words would be used in different situations or contexts. For example, when a friend admits that he got to the county park quicker when he followed your directions rather than his, you might simply say, “I’m glad that you agree with me.” But if you said, “I’m elated that you agree with me,” it would imply greater sarcasm. And you would never say, “I’m joyful that you agree with me,” because you wouldn’t feel a “deep sense of happiness” over something so unimportant. And do you know what? If you check the dictionary, joy, elated, and glad all have slightly different denotations too.

As I said, you can only learn the connotation of words by reading (a lot) and through experience. But your writing becomes incalculably more effective when you use the right word, instead of picking any word that seems to be a synonym.

25 Synonyms for “Beginner”

There are a lot of terms used to identify a beginner — many of them condescending or derogatory, so pay attention to connotation before employing any of these synonyms:

1. Abecedarian (from the Latin term abecedarius, “of the alphabet,” coined from linking the first four letters of the alphabet with vowels to form a pronounceable word): One in the early stages of learning.

2. Amateur (from the Latin term amator, “lover”): Someone who engages in an area of skill or expertise without remuneration, or, derogatorily, a person without experience or ability.

3. Apprentice (from the Latin term apprendere, “to learn”): One in the midst of hands-on training; originally denoting someone bound by a contract to train with a craftsperson, but now employed simply to refer to someone inexperienced. The term is used in a naval enlisted rank (“seaman apprentice”) and for the lowest level in Freemasonry (“entered apprentice”).

4. Babe (from the Middle English word coined in imitation of baby talk): An inexperienced person, with a condescending connotation of naivete.

5. Boot (from Anglo-French bote, “boot”): A US Navy or US Marine Corps recruit, perhaps from “boot camp”). Condescending.

6. Colt (from the Old English term for a young horse): A young, inexperienced person. Condescending.

7. Cub (from the word for a young animal): A young, inexperienced person, as in the expression “cub reporter,” referring to a new journalist. Condescending.

8. Fledgling (ultimately from Old English fleogan, “to fly”): Originally, use was confined to the literal meaning of “a young bird just learning to fly”; now, it is also a rare informal, condescending term for a young, inexperienced person (and is used to refer to a new enterprise).

9. Freshman (derived from fresh, as in “new to a situation,” and man): Originally referred only to a first-year student; now also denotes a politician or an athlete at the beginning of their career.

10. Greenhorn (from an obsolete English word referring to the new horns of a young horned mammal): Refers not only to a naive, inexperienced person but also to someone unfamiliar with customs or procedures. Condescending.

11. Layperson (from the Latin term laikos, “of the people”): A non-gender-specific variation of layman, originally denoting someone who is not a member of the clergy but now a general reference to someone who is not part of a particular profession or does not have expertise in a given subject matter.

12. Neophyte (from the Latin term neophytus, “newly planted” or “newly converted,” from the Greek word neophytos): A beginner or a convert. Mildly condescending.

13. Newbie (a diminutive noun derived from new): A person new to a place or situation, especially one unfamiliar with the conventions and etiquette of online interaction; a newer diminutive of this slang term is noob (or n00b, using zeros instead of the letter o, a variation often used in online conversation). Condescending or even derogatory.

14. Newcomer (a compound noun formed from new and come): Originally, one newly arrived to a location, but now a beginner in general.

15. Novice (from the Latin term novicius, “newly imported”): Originally, a probationary member of a religious organization, now generally someone with rudimentary skills. Depending on context, can be condescending.

16. Novitiate (see novice, above): A variation of novice, as well as a word for the condition of being a clerical novice, or the name of their residence.

17. Proselyte (from the Latin term proselytus, “foreign resident,” derived from the Greek word proselytos): A recent convert.

18. Probationer (from the Latin term probare, “approve”): Someone in the process of learning.

19. Punk (origin obscure): A young, inexperienced person, though it also has connotations pertaining to punk subculture and to sexuality. Derogatory.

20. Recruit (from the French term recrute, derived from recroistere, “to grow up again”): A newcomer; often used in a military or similar context. The term is used in the lowest naval enlisted rank (“seaman recruit”). Depending on context, can be condescending.

21. Rookie (uncertain; perhaps derived from recruit): One in his or her first year or years of experience, originally in the context of professional sports but now general in usage. (The back-formation rook is rare.) Depending on context, can be condescending.

22. Tenderfoot (a combination of tender and foot): Originally, someone new to a frontier area, unused to hardship; in the modern sense, a beginner. Condescending.

23. Trainee (from the Latin term traginare, “to draw” or “to train”): One learning a job or skill.

24. Tyro (from the Latin term tiro, “young soldier”): An inexperienced person.

25. Virgin (from the Latin term virgo, “young woman, virgin”): Originally a specific reference to a female with no sexual experience, now used lightheartedly to refer to someone new to a situation.

75 Synonyms for “Talk”

Talk, talk, talk — it’s all the same. Or is it? There are many ways to talk, and each has its own word (or words) for it. Here’s a noncomprehensive roster of many synonyms for the noun and verb forms of talk

1. Babble: enthusiastic or excessive talk, or meaningless sounds or nonsense words; to talk in this manner
2. Back talk: a disrespectful response; to respond disrespectfully
3. Backchat: see back talk, badinage, and gossip
4. Badinage: light, witty talk
5. Banter: see badinage, with a connotation of good-natured teasing or arguing; to engage in such talk
6. Barb: a hurtful and/or critical comment
7. Blandish: see cajole
8. Blandishments: see cajolery/cajolement
9. Blarney: nonsensical talk
10. Bluster: boastful or threatening talk; to speak boastfully or threateningly
11. Cackle: see chatter (verb only)
12. Cajole: to persuade with soothing or flattering remarks
13-14. Cajolery/cajolement: talk with the intent to persuade
15. Causerie: see chat (noun only)
16. Chaff: see badinage; also, to tease good-naturedly
17. Chat: an idle or inconsequential conversation; to engage in such talk
18. Chatter: quick, extensive, and/or aimless talk; to talk in such a manner
19. Chin music: see chat (noun only)
20. Chinwag: informal talking; to talk informally
21. Chitchat: see badinage
22. Circumlocution: evasive or verbose talk
23. Comment: an opinion or observation; to say something of this type
24. Confab: see chat (also, a formal meeting)
25. Confabulation: see chat and confab (also, something made up)
26. Confer: to exchange opinions or seek advice
27. Conference: a meeting, or an event consisting of presentations and/or meetings
28. Confess: to admit to a thought or action considered improper or shameful
29. Conversation: a talk between or among two or more people
30. Converse: to speak back and forth with one or more people
31. Crack: an uncomplimentary comment; also, to quickly say something, as when spontaneously telling a joke pertinent to a situation
32. Dig: see crack
33. Discuss: to engage in serious talk
34. Discussion: a serious talk
35. Dish: see gossip
36. Double-talk: intentionally confusing or ambiguous language, or talk that is at least partially meaningless; to engage in such talk
37. Fast-talk: to persuade or influence by deceptively authoritative and/or flattering speech
38. Flibbertigibbet: see gossip
39. Gab: see chatter
40. Gabfest: talking consisting of gab
41. Give-and-take: an exchange of ideas or comments
42. Gossip: see chat, with an additional connotation of talk or talking about the personal lives of one or more other people (also, someone who engages in such talk)
43. Jangle: see chat
44. Jaw: see chat
45. Jest: a humorous or mocking statement; to make such a statement
46. Natter: see chat
47. Negotiate: to talk in order to reach an agreement
48. Negotiation: a talk in which the speakers seek to reach an agreement
49. Palaver: a discussion or conference, especially one between unequal participants, or deceptive speech, or see chat; to talk idly, try to persuade or deceive, or come to terms
50. Parley: see confer, with the possible connotation of talk between antagonists to agree to terms to cease hostilities; to engage in such talk
51. Patter: quick or monotonous speech, as in delivering a humorous speech or in rote delivery of prayers; to speak in this manner
52. Pillow talk: romantic talk, such as would be engaged in while the speakers are in bed
53. Pleasantry: polite, inconsequential talk, or see banter and jest (nouns only)
54. Quip: a spontaneous observation or response; to say something of this type
55. Raillery: see banter and jest
56. Rap: see chat and patter
57-58. Recital/recitation: public delivery of read or memorized material, or of details or answers
59. Recite: to deliver read or memorized material, or details or answers
60. Remark: a statement of judgment or opinion, or a reference to something notable; to comment in this manner
61. Repartee: an exchange of clever, witty statements, a single such response, or skill in talking in this manner
62. Schmooze: see chat, with the connotation of one conducted so as to gain personal or professional advantage; to talk in this manner
63. Small talk: see badinage
64. Spit: to talk about things or opinions a listener disagrees with or disapproves of
65. Straight talk: frank, straightforward talk
66. Sweet nothings: flattering talk intended to charm a potential or existing romantic partner
67. Sweet talk: talk intended to persuade, or to endear oneself to the speaker; to engage in this kind of talk (the verb form is hyphenated)
68. Table talk: informal talking such as that heard during a dinner party
69. Tete-a-tete: an intimate or private talk
70. Waggery: see banter and jest
71. Wisecrack: a clever or sarcastic comment; to make such a comment
72. Wordplay: witty, playful talk
73. Yack: to talk at length
74. Yammer: to talk relentlessly, or to complain
75. Yap: excessive talk (also, slang for mouth)

55 Synonyms for “Criticize”

One of life’s great pleasures is the opportunity to criticize others, so it shouldn’t surprise you that the verb criticize has a rich repository of synonyms that offers so many options for expressing your low opinions of people or their words or deeds.

The list below into four general categories. Generally, only the first features words with distinct connotations, which I’ve included; the others are fairly interchangeable within each category, and even across categories.

Words Expressing Disapproval

1. Admonish: to give gentle, earnest advice
2. Censure: to condemn with formal disciplinary action
3. Chasten: to discipline or restrain
4. Chastise: to communicate severe disappointment
5. Chide: to offer mild constructive criticism
6. Condemn: to criticize wrongdoing
7. Decry: to communicate strong disapproval
8. Denounce: to target someone for disapproval, usually publicly
9. Dispraise: to publicly criticize
10. Excoriate: to indicate scathing disapproval
11. Fault: to blame
12. Fulminate: to publicly criticize
13. Lambaste: to attack verbally
14. Reprehend: to voice criticism
15. Reproach: to communicate disappointment
16. Upbraid: to offer severe criticism
17. Vituperate: to abusively criticize

Words Expressing Disparagement

18. Belittle
19. Cry down
20. Denigrate
21. Depreciate
22. Derogate
23. Knock
24. Poor-mouth
25. Run down
26. Talk down
27. Vilipend

Words Expressing Severe Criticism

28. Bad-mouth
29. Castigate
30. Flay
31. Hammer
32. Lace (into)
33. Lay (into)
34. Pan (especially to criticize a performance or a proposal)
35. Slag

Words Expressing Reprimand or Scolding

36. Bawl out
37. Berate
38. Call down (another meaning is “to invite or entreat”)
39. Chew out
40. Dress down
41. Harangue
42. Jaw
43. Keelhaul
44. Lecture
45. Rag
46. Rail (against)
47. Rant
48. Rate
49. Ream (or ream out)
50. Rebuke
51. Reprove
52. Score
53. Tongue-lash

54-55. Two additional words used only in their noun form are commination (“denunciation”) and objurgation (“a harsh rebuke”).

Many other words such as assail and scathe can be suitable depending on the context but have senses closer to “attack” than “criticize.”

25 Synonyms for “Expression”

Many words can be employed to refer to an expression. Most, as you’ll see, are true synonyms of one or more others, but a few have specific (and sometimes unique) connotations. Here are the synonyms and their senses:

1. Adage (from the Latin adagium, “proverb”) — An often metaphorical observation: “The early bird gets the worm.”

2. Aphorism (from the Greek aphorismos, “definition”) — A principle concisely stated: “Less is more.”

3. Apothegm (from Greek apophthegma, derived from apophthengesthai, “to speak out”) — An instructive comment: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

4. Banality (from the French banal, “commonplace”) — A trite comment: “You get what you pay for.”

5. Bromide (from the word for a compound, made in part from the element bromine, used as a sedative) — A hackneyed statement: “We have to work together.”

6. Byword — A proverb, or a frequently used word or phrase: “You can get more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

7. Chestnut (from the Greek kastanea, “chestnut”) — A stale saying or story: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

8. Cliché (from the French word for “stereotype”) — An overly familiar expression: “Keep the faith” (or an overdone theme, like moviedom’s manic pixie dream girl).

9. Commonplace (from the Latin locus communis, “widely applicable argument”) — An obvious but often tiresome or unfortunate comment: “What goes around comes around” (or a trite phenomena, such as drivers sending text messages).

10. Epigram (from the Greek epigramma, derived from epigraphein, “to write on”) — A concise and wise and/or clever saying: Time is money.”

11. Homily (from the Latin homilia, “conversation”) — a catchphrase (or sermon) meant to inspire: “To err is human; to forgive divine.”

12. Maxim (from the Latin maxima, the superlative of magnus, “large”) — A rule or principle: “A watched pot never boils.”

13. Moral (from the Latin moralis, “custom”) — The lesson of an instructive story: “Be satisfied with what you have.”

14. Motto (from the Latin muttire, “mutter”) — A statement of a principle: “Be prepared.”

15. Platitude (from the French plat, “dull”) — A banal remark: “Blondes have more fun.”

16. Precept (from the Latin praeceptum, “something taken before”) — A statement of a rule: “Thou shalt not kill.”

17. Principle (from the Latin principium, “beginning”) — A law or rule of conduct: “It is better to give than to receive.”

18. Proverb (from the Latin proverbium, from pro-, “for” or “to,” and verbum, “word”) — A direct synonym for adage, byword, epigram, and maxim.

19. Saw (from the Old English sagu, “discourse”) — A maxim or proverb, often referred to with some condescension: “You’ve heard that old saw about how to get healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

20. Saying — An adage: “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

21. Sententia (from the Latin word for “feeling, opinion”) — A brief expression of a principle: “To thine own self be true.”

22. Shibboleth (from the Hebrew word for “stream,” described in the Bible as a word used, by its pronunciation, to distinguish speakers of one region for another) — A widely held belief: “Time heals all wounds.”

23. Slogan (from Scottish Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, “war cry”) — A statement of a position or goal: “Say what you mean, and mean what you say” (or an advertising statement: “We will not be undersold!”).

24. Trope (from Latin tropos, “turn,” “way,” “manner,” “style”) — A common figure of speech: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” (or a trite theme, as the climactic duel in a western movie).

25. Truism — An obvious truth: “You can’t win them all.”

50 Idioms About Talking

This list expands on that theme by offering set phrases about talking and their meaning:

1. Beat (one’s) gums: to speak excessively and aimlessly
2. Bull session: a rambling group conversation
3. Chew the fat: to chat
4. Chew the rag: to chat
5. Diarrhea of the mouth: excessive talking
6. Dish out: to deliver critical comments
7. Flap (one’s) lips: see “beat (one’s) gums”
8. Gift of gab: a propensity for talking
9. (One) likes hear (oneself) talk: said of someone who is egotistical
10. Like talking to a brick wall: said of trying unsuccessfully to persuade or reason with someone
11. Run off at the mouth: see “beat (one’s) gums”
12. Shoot the breeze: to chat
13. Shoot the bull: to chat
14. Shoot the shit: to chat
15. Spill the beans: to divulge information, or to confess (see confess)
16. Speak out of turn: to say something inappropriate
17. Speak the same language: to be in agreement
18. Spit it out: to speak about something one is reluctant to discuss — often used as an imperative
19. Talk a blue streak: to talk quickly and excessively
20. Talk a mile a minute: to speak rapidly
21. Talk around: to avoid (a subject)
22. Talk big: to brag
23. Talk dirty: to try to stimulate someone sexually by speaking provocatively
24. Talk (someone) down: to outdebate someone, guide someone through a difficult maneuver (especially a pilot flying a plane), or to successfully bargain for a better price
25. Talk down to: to speak condescendingly
26. Talk (one’s) ear off: to talk to someone excessively
27. Talk (one’s) head off: to talk excessively
28. Talk in circles: to speak in a confusing or indirect manner
29. Talk in riddles: to speak obscurely or with hints
30. Talk (one) into: to persuade someone
31. Talk on: to continue to speak, or to speak on a certain topic
32. Talk (oneself) out: to speak to the point of exhaustion
33. Talk (one) out of: to dissuade someone
34. Talk out of both sides of (one’s) mouth: to speak inconsistently about something depending on who one is talking to
35. Talk (something) out: to talk about something to reach a consensus or understanding
36. Talk (something) over: see “talk (something) out”
37. Talk sense: to speak reasonably
38. Talk shop: to speak about work-related issues outside the work environment
39. Talk some sense into: to talk to someone to persuade them to see reason
40. Talk the talk: to speak as if one is an authority or adheres to certain beliefs or values
41. Talk the talk and walk the walk: to act in accord with one’s stated beliefs or values
42. Talk through: to talk about something thoroughly to achieve a resolution
43. Talk through one’s hat: to speak insincerely, to talk nonsense, or to exaggerate
44. Talk to hear (one’s) own voice: to talk excessively, in an egotistical manner
45. Talk tough: to speak in an intimidating manner, or to bluster
46. Talk turkey: to speak frankly and/or with resolve
47. Talk until (one) is blue in the face: to speak exhaustively, especially in an unsuccessful effort to persuade
48. Talk (something) up: to promote something to draw attention to it
49. Talk (one’s) way out of: to say something so as to evade blame or avoid responsibility
50: You should talk: an admonition to avoid expressing oneself hypocritically