Kathleen’s Five-Minute Writing Tip

Texas Style

9 Descriptive Alternatives

I used to remember things by making lists and filing them in manila folders according to subject: organizations I belong to, contracts I’ve signed, bank and credit card statements, favorite travel locations, favorite hotels, rejection letters, published clips, and so forth. Most of those file folders are now obsolete, since I have switched to storing almost everything electronically. Now my lists are in virtual folders on my laptop and my office desktop. Some of these lists are of usernames, passwords, emails, websites, blog sites, handles, and tweeter trends.

One day recently I decided to clean up my office and cull the old paper folders from my file cabinet. I barely made a dent in this task before my vision started to blur. I found it easier just to shred files without looking inside them. Out of sight, out of mind, right? But then I saw a folder labeled “Why Write This When You Can Write That?” Inside was a list of favorite words I had collected over time. Instead of shredding them, I decided to share a few:

  1. Why use overabundance when you’ve got plethora? Plethora is three syllables instead of five, and although at first it sounds like a lisp, it ends up sounding rhythmic (as long as you don’t spit while pronouncing it).

2. Why write make worse when you can write exacerbate? Less is more. Compare “The icy daiquiri made my toothache worse,” to “The icy daiquiri exacerbated my toothache.”

3. Why write bit when you can write soupçon? Soupçon is rarely used, but I like it because it makes me think of Andy Warhol and I chuckle.

4. Why write horrible when you can write odious? Horrible is just, well, horrible. Odious is loathsome, revolting, and despicable. Horrible can also imply that someone or some thing is bad, unpleasant or disgusting. Odious means they are extremely so.

5. Why write threatening when you can write ominous? Ominous immediately brings to mind storm clouds brewing and impending danger.

6. Why write bitter or angry when you can write acrimonious? Bitter or angry are just glossy, whereas acrimonious makes you stop and think how irate one really is.

7. Why write unexciting when you can write banal? Someone, who refused to give her real name, made a comment on a blog post, calling my writing banal. I responded by thanking her for adding another word to my “favorites” list. I also planned to tell her (I knew it was a “her” because the statement was so catty) that it was cowardly not to use her real name, but I deleted the last comment before I posted. Catty is as catty does.

8. Why write many, when you can write myriad? Plus, myriad doesn’t always need the preposition of. Many of the topics of my five-minute writing tips are too quirky for words vs. my myriad blog topics are too quirky for words.

9. Why write, “His mother wrapped him in a soft blanket,” when you can write, “His mother wrapped him in swaddling clothes ”? The writers of the Gospel didn’t copyright this word. It should be used more often. So, wrap yourself in a swaddling Snuggie, sit by the fire, and feed your old paper lists to the flames.



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Kathleen Kaska

Kathleen Kaska

Metaphor Writing Coach. Author of the Sydney Lockhart mysteries and the Kate Caraway mysteries. I blog about, “Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town.”