By Dr Oliver Tearle
One of our favourite word facts here at Synonymuse – or rather two of our favourite word facts – are that both thesaurus and synonym have their own synonyms. A thesaurus is also known as a synonymicon (and indeed, that was the usual word for a book of synonyms before Roget bestowed the title thesaurus upon such a book), while a synonym of synonym is poecilonym.
But the writer deals not just in ‘words’ in isolation, but phrases. And what’s another word for phrase? Are there any good synonyms for the word ‘phrase’? The word phrase is ultimately from the ancient Greek meaning ‘way of speaking’, but what other ways are there of saying ‘phrase’?
There are – although they aren’t especially numerous. Let’s take a look at the best synonyms for phrase and explore how they might be used.
Probably the leading synonym for phrase is EXPRESSION. Just as you might speak of ‘a French phrase’ or ‘a proverbial phrase’, so you can speak of a proverbial expression. The word expression, of course, is derived from express, meaning to speak or, literally, to press out something. This is because the verb initially meant to squeeze out something, much as we still talk of expressed milk, or espresso coffee being pressed out of the beans. From those origins, the word came to be applied to an act of setting forth something in speech or writing.
An expression first came to mean a phrase in the seventeenth century.
Another way of saying expression is to say … well, SAYING, a word which is often employed in less formal and more colloquial contexts. So we might talk about that old saying about lightning never striking twice or a well-known saying about a fool and his money being soon parted.
If saying places the emphasis on speaking a phrase, a couple of other synonyms for phrase are worth mentioning in this connection: REMARK and UTTERANCE.
Remark is not exactly used interchangeably with expression or saying, but they possess similar meanings. For instance, one might talk about a proverbial remark, although this is less common than proverbial saying, for instance.
The word IDIOM is specifically used to refer to a distinctive phrase which is closely identified with a group of people, such as a nation. It is the distinctive manner of expression a particular country has, for instance: something which can be pointed to as evidence of the individuality or distinctiveness of a language.
So we might describe kicking the bucket (i.e., dying) as an English idiom. The word idiom comes ultimately from an ancient Greek term meaning ‘peculiarity of style’.
A phrase which is itself used in place of the word phrase is TURN OF PHRASE. Somebody who can use words adeptly is sometimes said to be able to turn a nice phrase, and this idea of turning a phrase gave rise to this useful term.
And talking of TERM, that’s a word that has wide-ranging applications when referring to language. It can be applied to an individual word, especially one used in academic or scientific circles (e.g., a technical term), where it’s related to terminology. But it can also be used more widely of a particular phrase, although it’s less common than saying or expression.
An even more formal term is LOCUTION, from the Latin meaning ‘to speak’, and related to other words such as eloquent (good at speaking or writing) and loquacious (fond of talking), as well as elocution, as in elocution lessons.
One final synonym for phrase which is worth mentioning is CONSTRUCTION. In this context, this word simply means the art of putting together words to form sentences: it was defined by Samuel Johnson in his celebrated Dictionary of 1755 as the putting of words, duly chosen, together in such a manner as is proper to convey a complete sense’.
So we might talk of a particular construction when referring to a phrase or expression – although this term is rarer than either phrase or expression (or, for that matter, saying).