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Foolin’ around with synonyms

By Debra Dobbins

A delightful and versatile aspect of English is its vast array of synonyms. Synonyms are words that basically mean the same thing, but often have slightly different shades of meaning. or connotation. Good writers take joy in choosing synonyms with just the right connotations.

The Arizona Star’s David Fitzsimmons must have had a blast in writing his caption for the cartoon above. Let’s look at some of his word choices.

Instead of simply using the word nonsense, he chose tomfoolery, a whimsical word with a rich history. Webster’s says it is derived from “Tom Fool, as in Tom O’Bedlam.” (Webster’s defines bedlam as a shortened form of St. Mary of Bethlehem, which was a psychiatric hospital in London.)

This usage has been around at least since the 1500s. Wikipedia notes that Edgar, a character in Shakespeare’s King Lear, tries to pass himself off as mad Tom O’Bedlam.

Fitzsimmons found another playful synonym for nonsense in shenanigans. This Americanism is an altered form of an Irish word meaning “play the fox," according to Webster’s.

Other great word choices are hypocrite, one who pretends to be something he or she is not, and feigning, a synonym for pretending.

Then there’s the phrase “business as usual.” Used in a negative sense, it suggests that either nothing is getting accomplished or that the process is corrupt.

Fitzsimmons’ artistic skills are admirable, and so is his artful way with words.


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