Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Word Choices from Sad to Melancholy

Words fascinate me. I first became aware of word choices as something to be treasured in their own right when I stumbled upon the word melancholy while looking for a synonym for sad. We were living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, at the time and I vividly remember sitting in my Grade 5 classroom in the second-last seat, farthest row from the wall of windows. The assignment of the day eludes me, but the moment I mouthed the word melancholy, I liked the way it made my lips and tongue move together like waves rolling and lapping on the shore.

I believe part of the reason the experience stayed with me is due to the presentation of the words. Sad is a short word. You're sad that something has happened. You grieve first, and then suck it up and carry on because there is hope that things will improve.

On the other hand, the word melancholy is longer. It's longer to say, longer to read, longer to write. If you're into cursive writing, melancholy is a beautiful word. It's an intimate word that wraps you in pseudo-comfort that you can't bear to share. Yet its meaning is like a tactile, black cloud that weighs down your shoulders while filling you with the gloom of hopelessness. 

A synonym is gloom, a word that I personally place somewhere between sad and melancholy, and not merely because of the number of letters it contains. Gloom reminds me of a sleek boat with an even keel that's beautiful to watch. If only it could break free from the tractor beams of the dark, dense cloud above it. 

Gloom reminds me of the time I was playing Scrabble and challenged my opponent when he put down gloam, a word I'd never seen before. We checked The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary Third Edition, which we were using at the time and yes, gloam was a good word meaning twilight. 

According to Collier's Dictionary of the English language 1924 Edition, gloam means, "to begin to grow dark, like twilight; exhibit sullennesss or gloom." 
Since I consider gloom to be dark already, I'm placing gloam between sad and gloom on my word list for synonyms of sad, and then adding melancholy at the bottom.

Words evolve over time and I see my spell check has a red line under gloam. I've checked and it seems that current dictionaries consider it an obsolete word. Does that mean I shouldn't use it? Sometimes when I can't find the word I want to describe something I make one up and then watch it get deleted by a critique partner or editor. But then I hear of new words that come into use because they are coined (neologism). And that's a topic I'll leave for another day.

Since I'm a writer and NOT a health care professional, I need to stress that the opinions presented in this blogpost are my own interpretation of the words sad, gloam, gloom, and melancholy. They do not reflect degrees of mental illness, but are used here for descriptive writing purposes only.  

For another of my favorite words, you might want to check out my post Hear the Rustle.


Anita Mae Draper is a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who served twenty years on Air bases with her eyes on the skies. She uses her experience and love of history to pepper her stories of yesteryear's romance with hardship, faith, and joy. Anita Mae Draper's published stories appear in Barbour Publishing, WhiteFire Publishing, and Guideposts Books. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking out Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at


  1. great graphics, Anita! They really enhance your thoughts!

    1. Thanks, Deb. As you can imagine, all sorts of other pics came up when I googled for images of these words.

      And by the way... it occurred to me while I was writing this post that readers may think I'm talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but hubby bought me a Therapy Light for our Dec anniversary so I'm not troubled by SAD at all this year. It really seems to make a difference.

      The only reason I AM talking about melancholy is because I'm writing and that means checking synonyms and I can't forget that first experience with the word. :)

    2. Great descriptions!
      Now I'll have to try to remember "gloam" for my next scrabble game!

    3. Thanks, Elaine. For some reason, another obscure word popped into my head as I read your comment - mainly because I discovered it while playing another old word board game, but I can't recall the name of the game at present. Perhaps it will be the topic of another post. :)


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