Please consider this discerning message from Andrew Larkin of St. Cloud, one of many readers of this column who in some way objected to my advising writers not to interrupt the flow of a sentence by using a word that drives people to the dictionary:

"I would agree," says Larkin, "that writers should not aim to send their readers to a dictionary; that is a rule of thumb, which means that it can sometimes be broken.

"Here's one exception: for precision and nuance," he continues. "Even in business or journalistic writing, the writer should use the word that best conveys the intended meaning. English is abundant and replete with synonyms, some more common than others, and to provide the most precise meaning, the closest nuance, it is worth sending a reader or two to a dictionary.

"Almost all English synonyms are only approximations, and some are better than others. Do readers a favor, and send them to a dictionary, so that they will be able to think more precisely and with better nuance in the future."

Larkin's last paragraph brings to mind the French term le mot juste — the exact word that best captures a writer's meaning.

A great example, by a New York Times reviewer of Anna Quindlen's new novel, "After Annie," leaped off the page at me:

"And this Annie, by the end of the first chapter, has died on the kitchen floor after an aneurysm, leaving behind a brood of mourners, including her befuddled mensch of a husband, four children as lost as mittens and a precariously recovering best friend."

Such a lovely, arresting sentence. The word "mensch" may drive you to a dictionary, but it's worth the trip. And those four children, "as lost as mittens"? The freshness of that phrase delighted me.

Now, my annual reminder of that great one-word piece of advice about writing well, from the gifted journalist, novelist and screenwriter Pete Hamill:


I invite you to send me an example of a word or phrase that enticed you — if not drove you — to a dictionary, and that ultimately delighted you.

Gary Gilson can be reached through