Thursday, April 30, 2009

Not All Synonyms Are Created Equal

Twice in this issue, I've taken out the word "festoon."

Don't get me wrong, I like the word. It has a great sound, it's unusual without being weird. It feels festive and gay. And in fact, it comes from the word "festival."

But it has a very special meaning--it doesn't just mean "decorate." A festoon is a decorative chain that hangs between two buttons on a double-breasted coat (usually military). And, of course, any similar sort of decoration.

So, to "festoon" something is to attach a garland that drapes from spot to spot to spot. Unfortunately, we were using it to describe simple decorations.

What word have you seen stripped of its nuances and specificity?

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