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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Kingdom for a Synonym

I'm in the final stages of editing a novelette that I plan to publish sometime in March (no promises yet). My editor pointed out a paragraph in which I used the word door multiple times. I vaguely remembered noticing that myself during the initial drafting and revising, but since I was talking about removing doors, I let it go. My editor suggested I remove a few of them. A writer's first inclination is to use a synonym. English is such a rich language. It's chock full of synonyms with various shades of meaning and sound. Well, door is not one of those words. If you want a true synonym for door that you can hang in its place and keep the same meaning, you're out of luck.

Here's what the Merriam-Webster online thesaurus suggests (http://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/door).
Synonyms gate, hatch, portal

Related Words double door, Dutch door, French door, lattice, portcullis, postern, revolving door, storm door, trapdoor, wicket
Most of the related words contain door, what we're trying to eliminate. Wicket has too many connections to croquet, and the others are laughable substitutes. As for the synonyms, gate doesn't work for obvious reasons. No one refers to the cabinet doors in their kitchen as gates. Hatch has too many nautical or spaceship associations. I suppose a dotty, old ship captain might use that term but I'm writing a narrative summary and not the speech of a dotty, old ship captain. So, we're left with portal. To me, portal has a grandiose sound to it. It describes a gateway, something that takes you from one type of place to another. A person jumping dimensions would go through a portal. You might use it in reference to the entrance to some building or place with otherworldly connotations, such as a church or a cave. As a joke, someone might say they're passing through the portal to their room, which suggests their room is drastically different, another world or dimension where laws of light and neatness do not apply.

As you might guess, door comes to us from Middle English, a merging of the Old English words dor, meaning large door or gate, and duru, meaning door, gate, or wicket. Too bad the distinction didn't persist through the ages, but usage has a way of eroding sharp distinctions in meaning. Portal derives from Old French portal, meaning gate, and the Medieval Latin portale, meaning city gate or porch, which comes from the Latin porta.

Without a proper synonym, I had to do some rewriting to eliminate the word door by suggesting it rather than explicitly stating it. My editor was right. The paragraph reads better now, but the next time you look for a synonym for door, be prepared to bang your head against a door.

Photo Credit: Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, Orbetello. By Nicolò Mumseci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

14 comments:

  1. I can sympathize! I've had the very same thing happen. My character heard a knock on the door, opened the door and closed the door behind her visitor. I had to get creative. Ahhh...the English language...

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Susan. Yes, characters should stay away from doors.

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  2. Try thesaurus.com
    noun entrance to room, building

    exit star
    gate star
    aperture star

    egress star
    entry star
    entryway star

    gateway
    hatch
    hatchway
    ingress
    opening
    portal
    postern
    slammer
    There are lots more as well.

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. I'll check out thesaurus.com.

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  3. Overused words. My editor highlighted them. Ooops. I agree, we must get creative, but isn't that we began writing??
    Heather G - The Natasha Saga

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    1. It's so obvious when you see a cluster of yellow blocks in a paragraph.

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  4. I once tried come up with a synonym for planchette, which was all over a ouija board scene. Impossible, so I did quite a bit of re-wording. I feel your pain. :)

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    1. That would be even harder, such a specific word.

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  5. We are spoiled with the richness of English, which makes it all the more tricky when issues like this arise. Sounds like you've done the only thing you could...

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  6. Don't you think that maybe "door" is a bit like "said"? It's such a common word that you don't always notice if it's repeated?

    I suppose any word can stand out if you use it too many times in the same short space though and sometimes rewording is the only answer.

    (Btw, I'm over here visiting from Simon's cover reveal tour.)

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    1. Thanks for visiting. If you read quickly you wouldn't notice but with all the highlighting, it looked scary.

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  7. Maybe substitute with prepositions/adverbs? Inside, outside, through to the other side -- avoid reference to the door entirely? Don't know if that will help any.

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    1. I used something like that in another scene. The problem with the paragraph in question was that I was talking about removing doors.

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