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

by | Writing | 12 comments

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?

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  1. Connie Lounsbury

    Once again, I thank you, Oh wise one!
    Connie Lounsbury

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I think it’s more like “Oh, learning one,” Connie.

  2. H L Wegley

    I’ve been using the Flip Dictionary for 3 or 4 years, usually when I’m editing my first draft. It’s great to be able to find words related to a category of things or a notion rather than just synonyms.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I use it as I go along, Harry, but I think having it at my elbow when I do the final edit is a good idea.

  3. Marcia

    “The familiar aura of the aromatic liquid drew them together. “Nothing like a good cup of tea to smooth away the day’s troubles and worries.” I used the word ‘aura’ last night to replace aroma, because I didn’t want aroma and aromatic in the same sentence. Today, after reading this, I looked up ‘aroma’ in the Flip Dictionary and found 11 suggestions. I think ‘bouquet’ and ‘fragrance’ work better in this situation. “The familiar fragrance of the aromatic liquid drew them together.” Thanks Zoe.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I like bouquet too, Marcia. I’m glad you have and enjoy Flip Dictionary.

  4. Jan Elder

    This amazing book is now in my Amazon cart. Thanks for the tip, Zoe!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I hope you like it as much as I do, Jan.

  5. Jane Foard Thompson

    I’m definitely going to get one! I am always looking for a better word, and it drives me crazy to settle for almost-there. Thanks, Zoe!

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