Definitions

synonym dictionary

Synonym

[sin-uh-nim]
This article deals with the general meaning of the term "synonym". For biological synonyms, see Synonym (taxonomy).
Synonyms are different words with identical or at least similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek σύν ("syn") "with" and ὄνομα ("onoma") "name". The words car and automobile are synonyms. Similarly, if we talk about a long time or an extended time, long and extended become synonyms. In the figurative sense, two words are often said to be synonymous if they have the same connotation:

"a widespread impression that … Hollywood was synonymous with immorality" (Doris Kearns Goodwin)

Synonyms can be any part of speech (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs or prepositions), as long as both members of the pair are the same part of speech. More examples of English synonyms are:

  • baby and infant (noun)
  • petty crime and misdemeanor (noun)
  • student and pupil (noun)
  • buy and purchase (verb)
  • pretty and attractive (adjective)
  • sick and ill (adjective)
  • quickly and speedily (adverb)
  • on and upon (preposition)
  • freedom and liberty (noun)
  • dead and deceased (adjective)

Note that the synonyms are defined with respect to certain senses of words; for instance, pupil as the "aperture in the iris of the eye" is not synonymous with student. Similarly, expired as "having lost validity" (as in grocery goods) doesn't necessarily mean death.

In English many synonyms evolved from a mixture of Norman French and English words, often with some words associated with the Saxon countryside ("folk", "freedom") and synonyms with the Norman nobility ("people", "liberty").

Some lexicographers claim that no synonyms have exactly the same meaning (in all contexts or social levels of language) because etymology, orthography, phonic qualities, ambiguous meanings, usage, etc. make them unique. Different words that are similar in meaning usually differ for a reason: feline is more formal than cat; long and extended are only synonyms in one usage and not in others (for example, a long arm is not the same as an extended arm). Synonyms are also a source of euphemisms.

The purpose of a thesaurus is to offer the user a listing of similar or related words; these are often, but not always, synonyms.

"...there is no such thing as a true synonym."

The use of a human natural language is a matter of agreement between people and names of things (words) are arbitrarily given to objects. Such names are meant to identify things, etc. and are therefore unique identifiers at the start, though may be longer than a single word. Hence you need disambiguation in defining the meaning of Wikipedia entry words too. So what you have is a list of words that may replace each other subject to various contextual circumstances.

"Those who work with language know that there is no such thing as a true synonym. Even though the meanings of two words may be the same - or nearly so - there are three characteristics of words that almost never coincide: frequency, distribution and connotation."

This is well reflected in various new English dictionaries where you find frequency data next to a dictionary entry, etc.

One of the major achievements in lexicography belongs to a Hungarian translator Tibor Bartos, who compiled his Magyar szótár by claiming the very same idea as above.

Related terms

Antonyms are words with opposite or nearly opposite meanings. For example:

  • short and tall
  • dead and alive
  • near and far
  • war and peace
  • increase and decrease

The words synonym and antonym are themselves antonyms.

Hypernyms and hyponyms are words that refer to, respectively, a general category and a specific instance of that category. For example, vehicle is a hypernym of car, and car is a hyponym of vehicle.

See also

External links

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