Friday, September 18, 2009

Super. Fantastic. Absolutely Marvelous.

Writing a blog entry every day often leads me to write in a dichotomous fashion -- my subjects are usually either something I dislike or something I love or admire. For the things I don't like, the language that readily comes to mind varies as much as the things themselves and the reasons I dislike them.

But when I write about things I like, I often find myself using the same adjectives over and over. Wonderful. Great. Amazing. Cool.

So I have taken to keeping Roget's Thesaurus handy, and, despite the fact that I am revealing a closely guarded writer's secret, I thought I would share the stash of words I have squirreled away to use as needed. Here goes:

Remarkable. Extraordinary. Superb. Marvelous. Striking. Notable. Noteworthy. Astonishing. Fabulous. Incredible. Tremendous. Terrific. Sublime. Distinguished. Stupendous. Outrageous. Excellent. Superior. First-rate. Top-notch. Humdinger of a ___. Prime. Superlative. Dandy. Exquisite. Magnificent. Glorious. Divine. Sensational. Quintessential. Matchless. Phenomenal. Astounding.

(Note: I refuse to write the word awesome. I'm the wrong age for that one.)

Curious about the etymology of these words, I got out my handy Webster's and looked them up. Sometimes it was hard to pick a single source, since words frequently come from one language through another, and occasionally a compound word marries two different etymologies, but here's my best effort at quantification:

Latin: 21
Greek: 1
French (sometimes derived from Latin, of course): 4
German: 1
Old English: 6
Slang: 3

Steve Jobs in a centurion helmetI wonder if this skewed distribution parallels the etymology of the non-technical English vocabulary as a whole, or if the extremely heavy Latin influence is caused by the very concept of greatness? Maybe the Romans were more prone to exaggeration and hyperbole than the other cultures that influenced the development of English.

Postscript: A few minutes after I had the thought to write about my list of superlatives, I heard about this video, which says it all (and says it all and all and all):

5 comments:

Ramesh's Roundtable said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea said...

It's so true. Recently I've taken to saying "accomplished" instead of "smart" when referring to the famous academics with whom I work. More descriptive I think. :) A good word is worth a thousand words.

Andrea said...

Sorry, I have the old blog that comes up with one of my gmail IDs (Ramesh's Roundtable) so I had to delete and put my comment under the right ID.

Ms Sparrow said...

Ah, where would we be without the stupendous, prodigious, incredible Thesaurus!

Cinday said...

Couldn't agree more with this, Pat. When I'm writing anything, I try to write slowly to give my brain a chance to weigh word choices. As I worked through the novel revision recently, I noticed that I still chose badly on occasion and changed those words to better choices. I try to stay away from superlatives and exclamation points in my fiction. With my nonfiction, it depends on the topic....(smile)