I recently unveiled my rather spiffing new website - http://www.annajonesbuttimore.com/ . On the “Tips for Aspiring Authors” page I included the suggestion that I have found most helpful in my writing career – adding the Thesaurus feature to the Word toolbar. Or, if you do not have the technology, investing in a good Thesaurus. Reading one of my favourite books, by one of my favourite authors (Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson) this morning, however, I discovered that speakers of languages other than English have no idea that such things as Thesauri exist. (or at least, that if they did they are now extinct.)
English has the biggest vocabulary of any language in the world. French has about 100,000 words in common use; English has double that number. What a wonderful blessing I consider it to be that English is my mother tongue. When I count my blessings each day, it’s right up there with “I don’t live in Rhyl”.
When I am attempting to write moving and pertinent prose, I have a huge wealth of words, nuances and subtle distinctions on which I can call. The incredible scope of the language affords the writer the opportunity to pack so much more meaning into a single word, just by careful choice of the appropriate synonym. (Why isn’t there another word for synonym?)
Take, for example, the words “She smiled.” Let’s say character A, a dashing gentleman, has just said something to character B, our heroine, and she smiles in response. Were I writing in Welsh – the only other language in which I have any proficiency – I would use the verb gwenu – “To smile”. As far as I am aware, it is the only word for “smile” in Welsh. Now look what happens when I choose to use one of the many synonyms available in English, and how much more it tells us about our heroine’s response to A’s words.
- “She smiled” (She’s happy, or being polite)
- “She beamed” (She’s really happy!)
- “She grinned” (She found it funny)
- “She smirked” (She’s disdainful; what he said wasn’t funny or clever)
Today is St. George’s Day, and is reputed also to be Shakespeare’s Birthday, so I thought it a particularly appropriate time to celebrate the wonderful diversity of the English language, and perhaps also the fact that I have the privilege of being born English, and thus don’t have to learn it the hard way!