24/3/14

Preparing for the 'oposiciones': synonyms

We say that two or more words are synonyms when they have the same or nearly the same meaning, e.g. shut and close. However, there’s seldom strict synonymy, but loose synonymy, so we’d better speak of near-synonyms. For reasons of economy, to have two or more words with exactly the same meaning is a luxury that languages cannot afford. The main reasons why it’s difficult to find strict synonymy or one hundred percent synonyms are the following:
Differentation of meaning. Words often change their meaning with the passing of time: originally, to starve = to die, but when to die (probably of Scandinavian origin) began to be generally used the meaning of to starve was restricted to die of hunger; originally, mutton from French mouton = sheep, but it came to mean the ‘flesh of the animal’ and for the animal ‘sheep’ was retained.
Many lexemes are synonymous in some contexts but not in others: close/shut: we can say close/shut the door, but only the shop is closed; find/discover: we found/discovered the children hiding in the shed, but Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin; busy/occupied: I’m afraid Mr Smith is busy/occupied at the moment, but I’m afraid this seat is occupied; freedom/liberty: the rights and freedoms/liberties of citizens, but you’re at liberty to do as you please.
Different collocations, however slight: answer and reply are synonymous in practically any context, but you can say, for instance, “you have only one answer correct on the test”, but cannot substitute reply for answer in this case
Different register: Or in other words stylistic variety, that is variation in a person’s speech or writing, depending on the type of situation, the person or persons addressed, the topic discussed, etc., e.g. standard English drunk, formal inebriated, intoxicated, informal/colloquial pissed, slang sloshed; standard English to die, formal to expire, to pass away (euphemistic), informal/colloquial to croak, to cash in one’s chips, to turn up one’s toes/to kick the bucket (dysphemistic), slang to snuff it, to conk out, etc. There is also technical vocabulary: cardiac for heart, or pulmonary for lung, and jargon: prof (profe), to flunk (catear) and crib sheet (chuleta), for example, are student jargon. 

The two synonyms belong to different dialects: lift (BrE.)/elevator (AmE.); likewise, pavement/sidewalk, biscuit/cookie, dustbin/trashcan, boot/trunk, etc.

EXERCISE

Find synonym(s) or near synonym(s) for the following:

1.- awfully
2.- moreover
3.- to repair
4.- to endure
5.- huge
6.- slothful
7.- surly
8.- accurate
9.- to intrigue
10.- to stammer

KEY

1.- very, extremely, terribly, frightfully, dreadfully
2.- besides, furthermore
3.- to mend, to fix (up)
4.- to bear, to suffer, to tolerate, to put up with
5.- enormous, immense, very big
6.- lazy
7.- bad-tempered, sullen, sulky
8.- exact, precise
9.- to puzzle
10.- to stutter

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