Increase the Drama of Your Writing With a Thesaurus

Friday, August 52 min read

While common writing advice is to simplify word choices in order to appeal to the widest audience, a few well-placed multisyllabic words can elevate a piece of prose. These substitutions for six everyday (dare we say boring) words can bring a level of sophistication and drama to your writing.

“Good” vs. “Stupendous”

Instead of saying something is good, in the context of it being pleasant or fine, you could say it’s stupendous. This adjective appeared in English in the 1660s, a correction of the earlier “stupendious,” meaning “causing astonishment, astounding” (1540s). This came from the Late Latin stupendus, meaning “to be wondered at,” which was a gerundive of the Latin stupere (“be stunned, be struck senseless, be aghast, astounded or amazed”). Besides sharing roots with a Harry Potter spell (“Stupefy!”), “stupendous” shares the same stunning origin as “stupid,” but with a positive spin.

“Pretty” vs. “Pulchritudinous”

When stumbling upon a bed of roses, one could say it was pretty — but one could also say it was pulchritudinous. This mouthful of a word, meaning “beautiful, fine, or graceful in any way,” appeared in English in 1877 as an adjective form of “pulchritude,” which came from the Latin pulchritudo, meaning “beauty.” Before this word came the now-obsolete “pulcrious,” meaning “beautiful, fair,” which appeared in 1500.

“Great” vs. “Sublime”

“Great” can mean a few things depending on the context — here, we’re going with something important or celebrated, as opposed to large in size. Swap this one out with “sublime,” a word that emerged in the 1580s. In addition to being the name of a ’90s ska-punk band, this word means “expressing lofty ideas in an elevated manner.” It comes from the French sublime (15th century), or directly from the Latin sublimis, meaning “uplifted, high, borne aloft, lofty, exalted, eminent, distinguished.”

“Really” vs. “Indubitably”

Swapping “really” for “indubitably” is one of the most straightforward fancy upcycles to give to an everyday conversation. (“Are you really going to England this summer? Indubitably!”) “Indubitable” came about in the mid-15th century, meaning “too plain to admit or doubt.” It evolved from the Latin indubitabilis, meaning “that cannot be doubted.”

“Bad” vs. “Atrocious”

In the world of customer complaints, writing a letter using sophisticated language might get a valid complaint taken more seriously. “Atrocious” appeared in the 1660s, meaning “heinous, extremely criminal, enormously cruel,” from the stem of Latin atrox, meaning “fierce, savage, cruel.” The weaker, colloquial sense of “very bad” didn’t come about until the late 19th century, but “atrocious” is still a useful word.

“Thanks” vs. “Gramercy”

Gramercy” is an exclamation of thanks, and later of surprise, that appeared in English around 1300. It comes from the Old French grant-merci, or gran merci, meaning “great thanks, many thanks.” The modern French merci, for “thank you,” is a shortening of this. Perhaps this word seems so sophisticated because it is the name of a private park in New York City, with a key needed for entry. In 1957, writer Charlotte Devree wrote in the New York Times that this fenced-in patch of land was a “Victorian gentleman who has refused to die.”

Featured image credit: Andrej Filipovic/ iStock

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