All words have explicit dictionary meanings—denotations—as well as associated meanings—connotations. Often these connotations are cultural. For example, a color, such as white, may connote purity in one culture and yet be the color of death in another.
It’s important to be certain what connotations words carry. Words you may see as synonyms may have either positive or negative connotations, depending on the context and the culture. For example, the word odor may be seen as positive, negative, or neutral. But if you’re looking for synonyms, check this list and see if some of them might not work for you. When in doubt, look up words in the dictionary to see if a word might have a connotation you weren’t aware of and don’t want. When writing a poem to your love and seeking to focus on how wonderful that person smells, it might be better to stick away from stench and reek.
Do you think these two words are antonyms? In fact, they are synonyms, both meaning capable of burning. People get misled by the “in—” suffix: they might think of words such as “invulnerable,” “independent,” or “incapable,” in which that same suffix does make the root word a negative.
However, in the case of “flammable” and “inflammable,” both mean capable of catching fire. Because clothing and upholstery labels still sometimes say the item is “inflammable,” people might assume their couch or sweater will not catch fire. For safety reasons, “flammable” is the preferred usage.
As I have mentioned, I read the obituaries in the Los Angeles Times every day to make sure my name is not listed. Today was another good day for me. However, I found an obituary for a retired police officer who, it was said, retired “after a lifetime of public servitude….”
servitude |ˈsərviˌt(y)o͞od| noun the state of being a slave or completely subject to someone more powerful.
The poor man. This is what happens when people try to make themselves sound important: they use fancy words, thinking they know what the definition is. They are close, but no one is going to pass out cigars. I’ve already written about often seeing simplistic used when the writer (or speaker) means simple. Again, hold the Cohibas.
If you have even a teensy doubt about the meaning of a word, use your dictionary first.