First, a confession. I originally headed this post "Nuances of meaning". But the OED defines "nuance" as "a subtle difference in meaning" so this would have been a redundancy – as JD would have been quick to point out.

The nuances in question came my way while looking up the usage of judgement/judgment in Fowler's.

On the facing page I noticed the following: "jocose, jocular, etc. These and several other words – arch, facetious, flippant, jesting, merry and waggish – are difficult to separate from each other." After some wise words on the usage of each word Fowler's concludes: "All of them are usable in contrast with 'serious' but for most a more appropriate opposite may be found."

To prove its point, Fowler's lists them with their respective antonyms: arch, staid; facetious, solemn; flippant, earnest; jesting, serious; jocose, grave; jocular, prosaic; merry, melancholy; and waggish, sedate.

In other words, one way to highlight these subtle differences in meaning is to look at their opposites. In some situations this might be a handy way to check you're picking the right word... assuming you have time as a deadline approaches.

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