Finding alternate phrases
October 31, 2014 11:24 PM   Subscribe

What resources or tools are there for finding alternative phrases? As an example, when talking about art, someone might talk about "breaking conventions", "disrupting conventions" or "challenging conventions". However, if you go to a thesaurus and look up "breaking", you have to go through a very long list of words to find these alternatives which is quite time consuming. What tools are there which, when given a short phrase, can find alternatives? I imagine that this should be possible with either machine learning or some kind of wiki.
posted by casebash to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mother used to have a huge tome called a "reverse dictionary". You could look up a concept or phrase and it would list words and synonyms and statistics and whatever else might be tangentially related. Great for crosswords, might be what you're after.

Turns out there are a bunch online; here are the first two from a Google search for "reverse dictionary".
posted by ddd at 11:52 PM on October 31, 2014


I'm not sure if idioms are exactly what you're looking for, but you could look for an idiom thesaurus possibly? And if idioms aren't the kind of phrases you are looking for, you could look up "phrase" in a regular thesaurus to give you suggestions for other types and use those as keywords for your search. . Cliches, for example. Hope that helps. There's got to be something on the interwebs for this! And if not... I'll partner with you to make one? :)
posted by soitgoes at 12:51 AM on November 1, 2014


If you want to be authentic, you make your own. You think about what the concept actually means in the context you are using it, and you come up with your own turn of phrase.
posted by salad at 2:20 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Finding idiomatic synonyms is always going to be hard. You can either use the two-step subject key lookup, like in Roget, or you can have a huge alphabetical tome and have to trawl through them all. Either way, you have to check that the sense is exactly what you're looking for before using it.

You're going to have more luck looking for the lemma (break), then look for the right sense.

Compiling such a database for general use is a non-trivial application of computational linguistics, and might take an entire academic career to do so.
posted by scruss at 10:17 AM on November 1, 2014


The concept of collocations might be helpful if you were trying to take a computational approach to this. Basically, a collocation is a pair of words that occur together more often than you'd expect them to by chance alone.

For instance, in the example you gave, it sounds like the task is "Find synonyms for 'break' that form a collocation with 'convention'."
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:04 PM on November 1, 2014


The reverse dictionaries are excellent and Roget is pretty interesting as well.

Another thing I noticed, Thesaurus.com has tabs that allow you to quickly select the sense in which you wish to use a word. This should make it much easier to find the word I am looking for.
posted by casebash at 5:33 PM on November 1, 2014


WordNet
posted by Lanark at 5:06 AM on November 2, 2014


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