How to Find the Amazing Word for That Thingy, Modifier, or Action

Flip Dictionary takes you from a “meaning” you are aware of to the “word” you need.” —Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.


image by ClkeFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

In a scene, my character senses a reverent atmosphere, but I didn’t want to use atmosphere. I couldn’t summon the word I wanted. Microsoft Word’s thesaurus offered ambiance, feeling, mood, and others. I knew a better word was available but my brain couldn’t capture it.

I looked up atmosphere in Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at
Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at

Aura. That was it!

Under the word atmosphere, Kipfer listed 16 words for different kinds of atmosphere. For example: “atmosphere of special power or mystery: mystique.”

So, today I want to plug Flip Dictionary. Let’s look at some other examples. 

Example 1

How about courage. The thesaurus supplied: bravery, nerve, pluck, valor, daring, audacity, mettle, resolution, and guts.

As Flip Dictionary does, it named all of the above from a thesaurus and then added: backbone, boldness, braveness, chin up, élan, fearlessness, firmness, fortitude, gallantry, gameness, grit, gumption, hardihood, heart, the heart of a lion, heroism, prowess, soul, spine, spunk, and tenacity.

Wow. What a wealth of words to choose from. Some have a different meaning from, but are in the scope of, courage.

image by ClkerFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

Suppose my character is a boy who grabs a runaway dog’s leash and persists in pulling the resistant canine away from a busy street. I might use a form of:        

  • Grit – “courage and resolve; strength of character”
  • Gumption – “shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness”
  • Heroism – “great bravery”
  • Spunk – “courage and determination”
  • Tenacity – “the quality or fact of being determined; determination”

(definitions from New Oxford American Dictionary)

I like spunk. I don’t think I’d use it for a man. Maybe for a grandmother or a young woman. If my story is folksy, I might employ gumption.

The point is Flip Dictionary gives me words that go beyond synonyms. I like that.

Example 2

What’s the bar thingy that holds flags so they hang across a porch?

I looked up flag, and beneath it I found:

image by jill111
image by jill111

Flag hung on crosspiece, not pole: gonfalon”

gonfalon: “a banner or pennant, especially one with streamers, hung from a crossbar” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Gonfalon was also listed under banner in Flip Dictionary.

If you can look up a clue to the thingy escaping you, often you’ll find it in Flip Dictionary.

An amazing resource that gives me words that go beyond synonyms. Click to tweet.

If you use another resource or Flip Dictionary, would you tell us about how you use it?

Your Words Can Possess Power – It’s Your Choice

“Mark Twain said, ‘The right word is to the nearly right word as lightning is to the lightning bug.’ Fill your book with lightning.” — Robert Littell


It’s our choice to choose the word that gives our sentence the most power in creating a robust image in the reader’s mind. Often, power words don’t naturally pop into our heads.

What? Take the time to think about all 80,000 words in our manuscripts? Good news. You need to deliberate only the verbs, adjectives, and nouns.

From Wimpy to Forceful


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Eric gave Elle the paper. I picture Eric extending the paper to Elle and her taking it. And maybe this is enough, if you’re simply getting the paper into Elle’s hand. You intend to call little attention to the action. You want your readers to focus on more important actions or items in your paragraph.

But even in the no-special-attention instance “gave” can be improved. And “paper” can be more specific. How about: Eric handed Elle the letter.

But look at the sentence in the following contexts. You might go through this process armed with a thesaurus/dictionary.

1.  Anger. Elle has presented Eric with divorce papers. Eric is incensed.


Paper⇒pages⇒document⇒divorce papers⇒divorce contract⇒life death sentence

Eric flung the divorce papers at Elle.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

2.  Joy. Eric presents his first book contract to Elle.


Paper⇒document⇒contract⇒book contract

As Eric strode toward Elle, he flapped the book contract. She whisked it from his grasp, examined it, and then danced him around the dining table.

3.  Awe. Eric has discovered a Biblical document in a cave.


Paper⇒document⇒fragment⇒scroll fragment

Eric rested the ancient scroll fragment on Elle’s upturned palms.

Image courtesy of aopsan at
Image courtesy of aopsan at

I recommend you equip your writing desk with a copy of Flip Dictionary: For when you know what you want to say but can’t think of the word.

Have on⇒put on⇒grace⇒supply⇒equip

Words can stimulate vivid images in your readers’ minds. So choose good ones. Click to tweet.

In the context of jealousy, how would you power-up the example sentence?

Don’t Lead Your Readers Astray—Use the Right Word

by fanndango
by fanndango

by mensatic
by mensatic

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

— Mark Twain



When you write, do you highlight questionable words and then later search for a more accurate term? Do you do the same for bland words? Or, must you find the right word before you can progress to the next sentence?

Either way, you’ve developed good habits.


That’s why writers employ critique partners or editors. They fear they’ve overlooked substandard, misspelled, or wrong words.

Choose the best word for the following sentences.

  1. byAlvimann

    William had listened to enough of her ____. “Excuse me, madam, duty calls me elsewhere.”

    1. Boring talk
    2. Dribble
    3. Prattle
  1. Boring talk is accurate, but a solitary noun that nails William’s opinion would be much better.
  2. Dribble has no meaning in my dictionary that links to boring talk. The writer probably meant drivel. Drivel means dribble and nonsense talk.
  3. Prattle is the best of these: “foolish or inconsequential talk.” And, the sentence suggests it’s from a story set in an earlier period in which people might use such a word. My thesaurus also lists: gibber, nattering, burble, jabber, and babble. Of these, jabber or babble might work in a contemporary story.


  1. by keyseeker
    by keyseeker

    Honey ____ from the cabinet and dripped onto the counter.

    1. Ran
    2. Oozed
    3. Spread
  1. Ran is too fast for honey.
  2. Spread means gradually reached a larger and larger area. This is probably true inside the cabinet, but is not the picture of what we see coming out of the cabinet.
  3. Oozed is the best of these: “flow in a very gradual way.” My thesaurus also lists: seeped and crept.


  1. SDRandCo (26)His glock at the ready, Derrick ____ toward the cabin housing the meth lab. How many people inside would he surprise?
    1. Scuttled
    2. Moved
    3. Raced
  1. Moved is vague. It tells us nothing about how Derrick moved.
  2. Raced seems too fast for a man wondering how many people he’ll deal with inside. Stealth seems required.
  3. Scuttled is a good word: “run furtively with short quick steps.” But scuttle is often associated with rodents. Then again, Derrick wants to be spotted on his mission no more than a rat wants to be caught.

My thesaurus also lists: scurried, stole, and crept. Scurried is associated with small mammals, too. I like scuttle but crept or stole would work.


  • To find the best word, your word processor’s thesaurus/dictionary is a click away.
    click to tweet

What do you do to make sure you’ve used the best word? What word would you have used in the third exercise above?