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Finding the right word

BY PAUL BRUUN

A dim but unrelenting chorus chimes in my mind. “Where is that word I want?”

Pressing my chin down on my chest and relaxing helps encourage this vocabulary retrieval process — sometimes.

But rather than waste more time pondering and floundering, it is prudent to move ahead with the piece and return later to playing this game of verbal hide ’n seek.

There is much more to choosing the right word or words than many readers realize.

Careful writers add distinct words as a way of applying extra polish to their content. Good writing is a result of rewriting to improve reader understanding.

A dozen years ago I recognized that I was struggling, not only with correct spelling, but my vocabulary recall was flickering. I was also repeating words within close proximity in a paragraph and often within a sentence.

Enter a Franklin

I told my friend about my issue and she chuckled. “You need a Franklin.”

A Franklin was a small electronic device her junior-high-aged son used to help with spelling and word choice.

“You will love it,” my friend promised.

Dutifully I sought office supply warehouse aid and secured a Franklin Merriam-Webster Dictionary & Thesaurus spelling device for about $25.

Powered by a watch battery, the miniature window-keyboard gadget slipped inconspicuously into in my laptop bag. With minimal hunting and pecking I quickly unraveled words whose spellings either baffle me or elicit mental blocks.

For instance “khaki” is a term that triggers a stubborn determination to attempt “k-a-h(k)-a-k-i.” Using this awkward approach stumps my Mac’s laptop dictionary programs. Enter “kahaki” in my online dictionary and “No entries found” results.

Rather than taking my own above-mentioned advice to move on when a word stumps and return later, such a brief spelling annoyance compels me to rush immediately to Google and sometimes Wikipedia to cure each and every spelling breakdown.

These instantaneous solutions disrupt writing continuity and burn time and data use. A fast Franklin visit avoids all of this.

Despite gobbling batteries, the diminutive Franklin has speedily vanquished my awkward spelling challenges.

Thesaurus digs deeper

I’ve focused on writing for newspapers, along with weekly columns, since the late 1960s. Preparing a quarterly piece for TROUT magazine on classic tackle for some reason prompted recall of classic writing devices.

Admittedly it’s more colorful than pleasant to recollect hellish composing rooms of Linotype machines and hot lead printing, calackity-clacking manual and portable typewriter woes — broken ink ribbons, snapped and jammed keys and messy carbon paper copies.

Electric typewriters added their own litany of physical nightmares. My word production as a speedy typist surpassed others who struggled with early computer keyboard setups and page spacing issues. The instant luxuries of spellchecking, fingertip copy-and-paste editing and superior file saving forced me to stop resisting computer technology.

Such improved copy production hasn’t solved everything. Gratefully, the years have been relatively kind to me, but it’s frustrating to fumble and dig for words and phrases that are faintly visible but beyond reach. Many allude to this situation as being on the “tip of the tongue.” I refer to it as in my “vague brain shadow.”

Years back I bought a “Doubleday Roget’s Thesaurus In Dictionary Form,” but used it sparingly. Seeking help installing a better word never seemed a problem. But now, plucking that shadowy term from my brain is becoming a considerable challenge. A simple fix finds me regularly clicking on the “thesaurus” part of my Mac’s dictionary, a process that adds a delightful array of alternatives to study.

I was embarrassed at first about using a thesaurus as a crutch. That was before I realized how much pleasure came from examining new words, both synonyms and antonyms.

Do I have plans to replace my antiquated 1970s thesaurus with its label of “250,000 Synonyms and Antonyms”?

It’s on my gift list, chiefly after an on-line examination shows “Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus” promises “500,000 synonyms and antonyms yield over 1 million word choices” as well as “Hundreds of recently coined and common slang terms—plus commonly used foreign terms.”

A million words?

Who can resist such 21st century verbal inundation?

Not I!

With so many choices, I’ll never be stumped again. Or at least I’ll know how to find the right word.  ♦

— Paul Bruun became the editor of the weekly Jackson Hole Guide in 1973. In 1978 he founded and edited the Jackson Hole Daily. His weekly outdoors and food columns begun in 1973 continue to regularly appear in the weekly Jackson Hole News&Guide. He also pens “Classics” about vintage fly gear on the last page of Trout Unlimited’s Trout magazine.

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