Just the Right Word

Dear Readers:

Searching for the word that is a perfect fit in a sentence can be a time-consuming challenge. My brain knows what I want to say but the best choice flutters just out of reach in the recesses of the gray matter. This seems especially true now during my eighth revision stage when I have been advised by recent readers that a certain word on the page is close but not exactly what is needed.

So where to begin? Pull out the hand thesaurus that sits on my desk and start paging. Or hover my cursor over the offending letters and click my way into the electronic version. This should be the most efficient way to attack the search. However, I have found that any variations of an electronic word – a plural for instance – results in the best alternative found being the singular form. Not much help there.

Once several viable candidates have been found, further research is required to determine the exact definition. And one choice may add a flavor or nuance that insinuates something dire, catastrophic, and threatening when this particular scene is intended to be light, airy, and refreshing. So the evaluation continues.

Some words that have been assimilated into current popular usage have some very interesting beginnings. Good examples are explored weekly in a new column in the WSJ titled “Word on the Street.” This week’s word is “chatter.” It can be light and airy – to chat up someone conjures a most pleasant atmosphere. But then try on the fit if you work at NSA and have been charged with monitoring electronic “chatter” overheard between al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Now that is a totally different matter.

Another word, punt, comes to mind. It can mean a long, narrow, flat-bottomed boat, a ball dropped from waist level and kicked before touching the ground, a basic monetary unit of the Republic of Ireland, or – my favorite – the kick-up or dimple at the bottom of a wine bottle. All of these definitions seem not even remotely connected. How can such unrelated meanings evolve from the same four letters? Yet one of these variants may suit my sentence perfectly.

Taking this need to find the right word very seriously, some days my revision progress grinds to a halt as I search resources available. At times I wait for days and, when absent-mindedly focusing on something else, a gem pops into my head. Or I open my eyes in the morning and think of the elusive noun or verb upon awakening as if my brain has searched its data files while I slept and voila! found just the right one. It is a most pleasant experience when the fit clicks and somewhere inside my head my self-critic nods, smiles, and approves of the choice. The plot thickens.

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