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Do You Connote What I’m Denoting?

Where do you look to find the meaning of a word? A dictionary, of course. There you will find all the literal meanings of a word, its definition—its denotation.

Denote also means to signify or indicate. The blue wheelchair symbol in a parking lot denotes that spot as a handicapped parking area.

Most words also have a connotation—an association in addition to the literal meaning. A word’s connotation implies something about it—giving a hint or suggesting a connection.

The words house and home both refer to a dwelling. But home conveys (connotes) a sense of warmth, welcoming, and belonging that house does not.

Determined and stubborn denote resoluteness. Stubborn, however, connotes rigidity, even an unyielding defiance that is absent from determined.

Here’s an important distinction to note: words and symbols connote; people imply.

  • The orange cones on the highway connote a construction zone.
  • Martha’s pointing out the cones to Richard implied, “Watch your speed, dear.”

Words have the potential to connote positive or negative emotions, impressions, or characters. It’s worth taking the time to choose the right word to convey just what you want your reader to know or feel.

Incisive, Decisive, Concise, and Precise

Here are some adjectives that might befuddle you. Often writers interchange the words precise and concise, but there is a fine distinction in meaning.

Concise means stating something succinctly, using as few words as possible yet still conveying the full meaning.

Precise means exact, accurate. It is often used in mathematical or scientific contexts in which definite, fixed statements or measurements are demanded.

While precise and exactly are nearly synonymous, they are not necessarily interchangeable. Exactly is preferred if you’re talking about a measurement, or a time.

  • My alarm is set for exactly 5:37 a.m.

Use precise if you are talking about two or more things and you want to distinguish one from the other or others.

  • I’d like my home décor to match my personality as precisely as possible.

There’s a greater distinction between decisive and incisive. Continue Reading…

Wreaking Havoc

I don’t mean to wreak havoc on your life, but here’s a set of confusing words that you need to know before you wreck someone else’s life—or your prose.

Wreak and reek are homonyms—they sound the same but have oh-so-different spellings and meanings.

Reek is a verb that means to give off a strong or offensive odor.

  • My clothes reeked after spending an evening in a smoke-filled pub.

Wreak is also a verb. It means to inflict or cause damage, harm, or punishment.

  • Hurricane Katrina wreaked billions of dollars in damages all along the Gulf Coast.

Both reek and wreak are regular verbs, adding ed (reeked, wreaked) for the past tense, and ing for the participle (reeking, wreaking). Continue Reading…