This comment was left on our Word List: Alternatives to “Pretty”:

timelordsandkittens:

Okay here’s the thing: I love alternative words. But more often than not, they are actually not alternative words. “Pretty” and “beautiful” do not mean the same thing. A character who uses words like “babe” isn’t going to turn around and suddenly call someone “ambrosial.” (What does that even mean.)

BUT. Using “pretty” over and over does get old and I try to avoid it. I don’t want to say “she had pretty hair, pretty eyes, pretty clothes, and a pretty face” unless that’s the effect I’m going for, which it often is not.

I just don’t replace it with “delectable” or “beautimus” (seriously what even). UNLESS the character who is doing the describing would do that. Because I can think of a few who would use the word “delectable” to describe someone’s appearance in all seriousness. It just doesn’t have the same connotation as “pretty.”

I initially wanted to go through and pick apart your work line by line in the same way that you picked apart mine. However, I found I couldn’t be bothered, so I’ve chosen to only respond to the heart of the matter, to the misunderstanding that I believe is the cause of many comments we have received of this nature on several of our Word Lists.

More than anything, I am concerned about your definition of the word alternative, as I believe you are confusing it with the word synonym. For the sake of clarity, let’s define the two terms now.

Alternative

(n):

  1. A choice limited to one of two or more possibilities, as of things, propositions, or courses of action, the selection of which precludes any other possibility.
  2. One of the things, propositions, or courses of action that can be chosen
  3. A possible or remaining course or choice

(adj):

  1. Affording a choice of two or more things, propositions, or courses of action.
  2. (Of two things, propositions, or courses) Mutually exclusive so that if one is chosen the other must be rejected.
  3. Employing or following nontraditional or unconventional ideas, methods, etc.; existing outside the establishment
  4. Logic. (of a proposition) asserting two or more choices, at least one of which is true.
A few synonyms for alternative as we use the word: substitute, backup, alternate, different, makeshift, secondary, surrogate, other; We’ll tack on choice and option, too.

Now, on to synonym.

Synonym

(n):

  • A word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language.
  • A person or thing so closely associated with a particular quality or idea that the mention of their name calls it to mind.
A few synonyms for synonym: equivalent, metonym, analogue; That’s pretty much it.

When we title our Word List posts “Alternatives to Pretty” or “Alternatives to Run”, we are not using the word alternative synonymously with the word synonym. I think it’s pretty clear that the two words are related, but not closely enough that they even share common synonyms.

An alternative word is a word that can be used in place of another because the word that needs replacing cannot, for whatever reason, be used. Maybe writer feels that the word has been overused, or the tone or nuance or origin of the word is not appropriate, or maybe the writer would simply prefer to spice things up.

Whatever the reason, alternative implies a choice, stylistic or otherwise, from a list of two or more unique selections. Synonym does not imply this choice. The words included on a list of synonyms would have meanings that mirror the meaning of the original word as closely as possible. There is no depth of choice between the words on a list of synonyms, because these words, when substituted for one another, mean the exact (or almost the exact) same thing.

You will find all the synonyms of the focus word on our Word Lists, but you will also find words loosely given a similar meaning, such as slang words, archaic words, approximates, and related words. The idea is to give a wide range of choices (alternatives) so that the writer may pick the most appropriate alternative word from the list. Or not.

This is where my worry comes in: "I love alternative words. But more often than not, they are actually not alternative words."

Even if we put aside an understanding of these sentences as illogical in a literal sense (alternative words will always be alternative words), I still feel this is inaccurate. I think you are accidentally using the definition of synonym for the word alternative in that second sentence (i.e. “But more often that not, they are not actually synonymous words”). If my assumption that you’ve jumbled words and definitions is accurate, then the corrected sentence in parentheses is your true meaning, and I wholeheartedly agree:

I also love alternative words. But, more often than not, they are not actually synonymous with the focus word (a.k.a., the word in the title of the post).

Thank you for taking the time to share your opinion with us. I freely admit that I agree with most of the points in your second and third paragraphs, but the thesis of your argument is innately flawed. Because you share that flaw with the vast majority of people who comment on our Word Lists, I felt it was worth my time to clarify our intent.

-C


  1. timelordsandkittens reblogged this from writeworld and added:
    Hello. I must say I was surprised to see this, but thanks for taking the time to comment on my comment. Now allow me to...
  2. writeworld posted this