what does 'better' mean--or is it 'synonym'?

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Mon Sep 4 16:22:50 UTC 2000

First, let me add a p.s. to my last post and point out that Bruce
Springsteen's done "Blinded by the Light" as well as Manfred Mann.

Now, let me ask something linguistic.  Does the following strike you as weird:

I've been searching the web for the phrase "better synonym".  What I
expected to find was people saying things like "X is a better synonym
for Y than Z because..."  (I'm looking at the bases on which people
make synonym judgments.)  Instead I find things like the following:

1.  ("tag" is not used here in the sense
it has recently acquired in HTML. I'd like to find a better synonym.)

2.  : In light of the reactions so far, perhaps you should make a
special effort to assure the casual visitor how truly quick and
painless (and insignificant) the registration process is, because
MANY are immediately turned off by the prospect of
"REGISTERING".  I wish there was a better synonym for "Registering".

3.  "A better synonym for creative writing is 'autobiography.'

4.  It is the first
place I have found that I felt if I wanted I could ask some pretty
basic(maybe stupid is a better synonym)
questions to clear up things I haven't yet understood,

I'll quit here but there are at least a dozen of these.  Only one
synonym for the word in question has been proposed in each case, so
they seem to be using 'better synonym' to mean either 'synonym' or
'better word'.  That these examples are often to be found on "how to
write more nicer" sites disturbs me...

(And then there's the matter of people claiming that things are
synonyms when their intent is to change the meaning of the word--as
in (3) and (4) above.)

Lynne, who has just acquired a new pet peeve
Dr M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH UK
phone +44-(0)1273-678844
fax    +44-(0)1273-671320

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