Choose Another Word

Few things irk me as much as having one word used twice in the same sentence, let alone that same word populated a dozen times in a couple paragraphs. I don’t mean words like “and” and “the” but words that have multiple, beautiful, descriptive counterparts that can enrich and enliven written or spoken communication.

Saying, “the doctor showed me the negative images of my bones,” doesn’t exactly ring true. However, more often, with just a bit of imagination, we can stretch a little.— Words on the Fly

Sometimes this is not easy. Chances are if you’re conveying that the “doctor showed me the X-rays,” there may not be many alternatives that get the job done. Saying, “the doctor showed me the negative images of my bones,” doesn’t exactly ring true. However, more often, with just a bit of imagination, we can stretch a little.

For example: “Shyly, he handed her a bouquet of flowers.” Very sweet. But what if we said, “Lowering his eyes, he thrust the profusion of blooms at her.” Hmmm. This phrases allows you to read more into the statement. You can understand that he is shy because he can’t look her in the eye, and that by “thrusting” the flowers at her, you can almost sense his relief in accomplishing this brave task.

By using the word “blooms” here, that allows you to use “flowers” later… or “daisies” specifically… or their “riot of color” in a popular cliché. How did the flowers smell? They were “delicious” or “fragrant” … “perfumed”… “laden with nectar”… “smelling of earth and rain and possibilities”… “heady in scent”… “overpowering”…“delicate” …”sensual”… “intoxicating”… “spicy.” In this case, there’s more to flowers than meets the eye – or the nose.

A favorite trick of mine is to imagine I can’t use the first word that pops into my head. I suppose it’s an act of discipline. So I force myself to think of the “second right answer.” Before writing about nightfall and going for the logical “darkness,” I try to consider the subtleties. Is this the pitch of night or twilight, when day and dusk meld? Is this the kind of biting cold night that stings your lungs like acid as you inhale… or the balmy night that envelopes you in a warm bath? Is it a night pierced by pinpoint stars, a night assaulted by city lights, or a night kissed by a pale moon?

While clearly indulgent for the creative writer, this exercise has merit in the workplace as well. How many times have we all written, “To recap the meeting?” Well, maybe it’s time to “summarize,” “consolidate ideas,” “distill the best thinking,” “crystallize our strategy,” “formulate a plan”… Maybe we can offer a “synopsis,” an “outline,” an “overview,” or “over-arching goals.” Maybe we can turn the old “committee” and current buzzword “team” into something more proactive. How about the “task force”… the “thought leaders”… the “idea accelerators?” By using words creatively and intentionally, you can turn “same old, same old” into something “fresh and new.”

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