Definition of Synonym

Synonym means a word or phrase with the exact or nearly the same meaning. The word or term, synonym, has been borrowed from synonymum, a Latin term, which has originated from a Greek term, synonymon. It is made up of three terms, syn that means alike, onym and onoma that is a name. Therefore, it means similar names. However, it is unclear when it entered the English language from the Norman French which seems to have some equivalent terms.

Grammatically, a synonym is a noun having plural, synonyms. In literature or general language, it is a term, word, phrase, or a morpheme having similar meanings in the same or another language. There are several ways to name synonyms such as substitution, meanings, word family, connotations, denotations.

Types of Synonyms

There are four major types of synonyms.

  1. Absolute synonymy: This type of synonym is interchangeable.
  2. Complete synonymy: This type of synonym is equinormal.
  3. Cognitive synonymy: This type of synonym is referential.
  4. Plesionymy: This type of synonym is based on context.

Examples of Synonym in Literature

Example #1

From The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

The surgery went well. We were all a little shocked when they first removed the bandages, but kept our smiles on just as Dr. Kumar had instructed us. It wasn’t easy, because Hassan’s upper lip was a grotesque mesh of swollen, raw tissue. I expected Hassan to cry with horror when the nurse handed him the mirror. Ali held his hand as Hassan took a long, thoughtful look into it. He muttered something I didn’t understand. I put my ear to his mouth. He whispered it again.

This passage occurs in the novel of Khalid Hosseini, The Kite Runner. The highlighted words could be interchanged with the synonyms such as operation, trauma, awkward, and murmured but their overall meanings would change a little bit based on the context. An erudite reader could easily deduce what type of synonym he requires to replace any of these and how it would change the context or overall meanings of the text.

Example #2

From A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy

‘Love is new, and fresh to us as the dew; and we are together. As the lover’s world goes, this is a great deal. Stephen, I fancy I see the difference between me and you––between men and women generally, perhaps. I am content to build happiness on any accidental basis that may lie near at hand; you are for making a world to suit your happiness.’

Although his short passage has everything appropriate and suitable, it seems that if these four bold words are replaced with their typical synonyms such as think, commonly, satisfied and appropriate, they would make a little difference and the conversation of Elfride Swancourt would not make the same impact as with the original words of Thomas Hardy. This means how the use of synonyms could change the overall message of the text.

Example #3

From Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

She turned her head and saw, a hand’s breadth from her eyes, those other glacial eyes, that livid face, those lips petrified with fear, just as she had seen them in the crowd at Midnight Mass the first time he was so close to her, but now, instead of the commotion of love, she felt the abyss of disenchantment. In an instant the magnitude of her own mistake was revealed to her, and she asked herself, appalled, how she could have nurtured such a chimera in her heart for so long and with so much ferocity. She just managed to think: My God, poor man! Florentino Ariza smiled, tried to say something, tried to follow her, but she erased him from her life with a wave of her hand.

This passage occurs in the phenomenal novel of Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera. This passage shows how Fermina Daza loves Ariza. The replacement of these simple and common words does not seem to impact. The reason is that this is already a translation of the novel which may not be as suitable as the new synonyms. This shows how synonyms prove significant for the text and its message.

Example #4

From The Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Great God! what a scene has just taken place! I am yet dizzy with the remembrance of it. I hardly know whether I shall have the power to detail it; yet the tale which I have recorded would be incomplete without this final and wonderful catastrophe. I entered the cabin where lay the remains of my ill-fated and admirable friend. Over him hung a form which I cannot find words to describe—gigantic in stature, yet uncouth and distorted in its proportions. As he hung over the coffin, his face was concealed by long locks of ragged hair; but one vast hand was extended, in colour and apparent texture like that of a mummy.

Just read this passage from Frankenstein and see that replacement of these three words with their appropriate synonyms would make an impact on the text as well as the message. Similarly, the replacement with antonyms will also impact the text and its message.

Example #4

From Notes From The Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Though I did lay it down at the beginning that consciousness is the greatest misfortune for man, yet I know man prizes it and would not give it up for any satisfaction. Consciousness, for instance, is infinitely superior to twice two makes four. Once you have mathematical certainty there is nothing left to do or to understand. There will be nothing left but to bottle up your five senses and plunge into contemplation. While if you stick to consciousness, even though the same result is attained, you can at least flog yourself at times, and that will, at any rate, liven you up. Reactionary as it is, corporal punishment is better than nothing.

This passage occurs in the novel of Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground in which the protagonist ruminates over his fate. The bolds words if replaced with their synonyms such as bad luck, thinking, and physical would not be as impactful as the original words used by the translator.

Functions of Synonym

Synonyms, though, seem equal, yet have different connotations, shades, and nuances. They convey different messages, and the audiences and readers have to make a little effort to reach the real message of the writers. They also help the writers integrate different themes and messages in a small text.



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