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Wordpower

Top Drawer and Hunky Dory

Finding the right word is sometimes a remarkable feat.
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Good isn’t always good

Experienced writers know that they need to keep their readers hooked. And one of these ways is using a wide range of interesting vocabulary.

Even if you are just writing an email, an essay, a report or anything else at all in English, chances are that you will use the word good sooner or later. Now, there is nothing wrong with the word good in itself. But it’s boring, very, very boring. And over-used. And there is a huge variety of more attractive substitutes. If you are an English language student, getting away from basic vocabulary and using more unusual words is a step towards a high mark in a writing or speaking exam.

Good is multi-functional

Think about the way we use good as an adjective. Part of the reason it is so commonplace is because we use it to describe such a wide range of different scenarios – a book, a hotel, the weather, our state of health or mind, a behaviour, a skill, and several zillion other situations. If you look in any English dictionary, there will be a good long entry devoted to this word. (See what I did just now ?)

Suggestions

Please note that these are only a tiny fraction of possible replacement words or phrases for good. I have chosen them mainly because they have a some history attached, and even then it may not be 100% exact…….who knows when it comes to the often long-forgotten history of language? But a story which comes attached to that piece of vocabulary will help that word or expression stick in your memory. So here goes.

As fit as a fiddle
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How are you?

In answer to this you might say – well, good, great, fine, okay, thanks.

Or:

As fit as a fiddle

Fiddle is a colloquial term for a violin and fit originally meant fit for purpose, in that the violin was a very suitable instrument for making music. Its meaning has shifted along with the word fit so that it now describes someone in very good health. The expression is at least 400 years old, first documented in 1616.

“Is your grandad ok after his bout of flu ?” “Yes, he’s as fit as a fiddle.”

In fine fettle

Another option is in fine fettle. To be in fine fettle means you are in great spirits and /or health. Fettle is a fossil word, that is, a word still used in a certain expression, but otherwise it has fallen out of use. It derives from Old English and was used as a verb to prepare a horse for riding.

“Are you in fine fettle today ?”

Hunky dory

This one comes from American English, specifically from New York. Hunky dory appears to have evolved from the Middle Dutch word hunkey, meaning satisfactory and secure. Nowadays we use it to say something or someone is doing well.

“How’s your latest project coming along ?” “Everything’s hunky dory, thanks.”

As right as rain

We say this after someone has been ill, to say they are now back in good health. It is tempting to think that rain in England is the usual state of the weather, and that’s why we say as right as rain. However, there were many different versions of this expression, which have now, sadly, fallen into disuse. As right as a book, as right as nails, as right as ninepence, as right as a trivet, as right as a gun and as right as my leg have all been documented in the past. Theories, anyone ?

“Are you feeling better now ?” “Yes, as right as rain, thanks.”

Situations

Shipping containers in ship shape and Bristol fashion
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Ship shape and Bristol fashion

This phrase is used to affirm that something is well-organised. Like many other idioms in English, it has a nautical origin, referring as you may have guessed, to the early 19th century port of Bristol, a city which was not only prosperous, but had developed a Floating Harbour in order to prevent ships from running aground due to extreme variations in water levels.

The expression ship shape is about 200 years older, originally ship shapen. It meant securing all the cargo on a ship correctly to stop it from being spoilt, something which could occur if the ship was beached, for example. Eventually the two expressions were joined together to signify that an operation was working efficiently and in perfect order.

“The warehouse is well organised with everything stored ship shape and Bristol fashion.”

What’s in your top drawer?
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Top drawer

Not only in the past, but still to date people tend to keep their essential items in their top drawer so they can find them easily. So therefore the top drawer is a container for our useful and therefore valuable objects. So if something is top drawer, it is indeed something worth having.

“My smartphone is top drawer, with all the functions I could ever need.”

Amazing sliced bread
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It’s the best thing since sliced bread

I imagine, that like me, you can think of approximately a million things that are better than sliced bread, but pre-packed and sliced bread was a pretty revolutionary idea at the beginning of the 20th century. This phrase is used to describe an excellent and/or innovative idea that makes our lives easier.

“That new addition to the computer programme is the best thing since sliced bread.”

A dab hand

If you are a dab hand at something, it means you are an expert or highly skilled. The phrase – a dab hand – was first recorded in the early 17th century but nobody really knows the origin of this expression for sure. To add to the confusion, to dab actually had two meanings in the 16th century – it meant both to strike heavily or to touch lightly. If you are a dab hand at unravelling mysteries, the origin of this phrase is something you could investigate …….

“My cousin is a dab hand at making lasagne.”

So there you have a tiny fraction of some words and expressions to replace good. If you would like to improve your English, start using an online dictionary and with practice, you’ll become a dab hand.

By paulinell

I am an EFL teacher, examiner, Spanish to English translator and English-stuff is my blog on English history, culture and language.

4 replies on “Top Drawer and Hunky Dory”

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