„You’re unhappy with the word you’ve chosen because of its rhythm“

Repetition has its uses and anything is better than trying to avoid repetition through what they call „elegant variation“.

This is an example from a biography of Lincoln:

> While in Chicago he appeared to back concessions to the South.
> In New York he seemed to support…

You know, there’s no point in using a different word when there’s no change in meaning.

And that’s just something that the writer was taught when they were 12— never to use a word twice in a sentence.

And they’ve become terrorized by that and then addicted to a new „ingenuity“ where you avoid it.

But I’m talking more about sounds and rhythms.

The Nabokov novel we know of as „Invitation to a Beheading“ was originally called – not for very long – „Invitation to an Execution.“

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Now Nabokov said,

> Of course I avoided the repetition of the suffix so chose to call it „Invitation to a Beheading“ rather than „Invitation to an Execution“, which is sort of rhythmically ugly.

You’ve got to think about the bits of the word as well as the word in its totality.

Avoiding repetition of prefixes and suffixes as well as rhymes and half-rhymes, intentional alliteration, et cetera, can be achieved by anyone simply by using a dictionary and a thesaurus.

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People think thesauruses are there so you can look up a fancy word for „big“ or a fancy word for „long“.

That’s not what a thesaurus is for, in my view.

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A thesaurus is – you come to a point in a sentence and it’s usually towards the end of a sentence where you’re unhappy with the word you’ve chosen not because of its meaning but because of its rhythm. And you may want a monosyllable for this concept or you may want a trisyllable. So you look in the thesaurus, you find a simile that has the right number, you know, for the whole sentence to maintain its rhythmical integrity.

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And you just do that by going to your thesaurus. And also going to your dictionary.

Do not use words against the derivation.

For example, dilapidate.

It’s fine to talk about a dilapidated building but not fine to talk about a dilapidated hedge, because dilapidated comes from „lapis“, which means „stone“.

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So a really careful writer will make sure that they’re not doing—not visiting an indecorum on the word’s derivation. So it’s very labor intensive.

I mean it takes a long time to sometimes—to get your sentence right, rhythmically, and to clear the main words in it from misuse.

Source: How to use a thesaurus to actually improve your writing | Martin Amis

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