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I’m looking for a word to describe the language of a writer which has the characteristic of being rich and at the same time says that the words that this writer uses have many layers of meanings.

The word polysemous (having multiple meanings) and the word multivalent (defined as having many values, meanings, or appeals) seem to fit the description. Yet both words sound quite technical to me. I’ve never encountered the word polysemous outside the field of linguistics and multivalent — according to the dictionary — is used mostly in chemistry.

So which word is better?

  • The writer’s language is so rich and polysemous.

  • The writer’s language is so rich and multivalent.

Also, are there other, better synonyms?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Kristina Lopez, FumbleFingers, John Lawler, choster, MετάEd Jul 1 '13 at 1:51

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Those two words are so...clinical. How about 'multi-layered'? – Mitch Jun 30 '13 at 14:08
What about "rich and multifarious"? – Vahid Shirbisheh Jun 30 '13 at 17:47
@VahidShirbisheh I find multifarious nearly as bad as the two words she’d already looked at. It’s erudite and perhaps even puffed up. – tchrist Jun 30 '13 at 18:16
I would love those words to become part of modern parlance. – Pureferret Jul 1 '13 at 0:25
@Pureferret: they are part of the modern technical vocabulary, they just don't fit right for the OP's purpose. – Mitch Jul 2 '13 at 0:05
up vote 2 down vote accepted

"Which word is better?

The writer’s language is so rich and polysemous.

The writer’s language is so rich and multivalent."

...Remember that you can always change your sentence structure too. I like most of the suggestions given above. It seems that you're getting trapped into looking for a single perfect word, which is a common mistake; and in that search, you're forcing yourself to come up with GRE-words like "polysemous."

Don't obsess about a single word in a sentence; if the sentence isn't going well, delete it. "[Blank's] language is rich, multilayered; following his sentences is like travelling in a glass elevator moving between different floors of a building -- you look in through the windows; every few words lends a different view." Or that's terrible; but anything. You can write anything you what about it. Obsessing over a single world is a mistake. Step back, and change the larger thing that isn't working.

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It’s not obsession but rather CURIOSITY. I liked many answers too especially the ones referring to adjectives like multi-layered and stratified. Jacques Derrida’s language, for example, can be described as rich and multi-layered /stratified but certainly not voluptuous! – mis-n-salem Jul 1 '13 at 11:28

You don’t want either of those words, for a whole host of reasons. They clash with the plain-language tone you had had going up till them. A lot of people wouldn’t know what they meant, or at least would have to pause and puzzle them out. And polysemous can carry a shifty overtone of ambiguity.

Just stick to plain English and write something like:

  • The writer’s language is rich and deep.
  • The writer’s language is rich and layered with meaning.

I do not understand this misplaced search for a “single” word.

You might not want to use so as a gushy alternative to very. It works best when you’re making a “so . . . as” comparison or starting a “so . . . that” clause.

  • The writer’s language is not so rich as in Regency romance, but it still draws you into her world.
  • The writer’s language is not so rich that it cannot be read without a dictionary in hand, but is still rich enough to make you want to live in her story.
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The depth of meaning is not my intent but rather this characteristic of “multivalence” in meaning the words have that I want to emphasise without sounding technical. I am curious to know if there is a (single) word in English that can express what I’m looking for. – mis-n-salem Jun 30 '13 at 13:39
@Tanninah Deep. – tchrist Jun 30 '13 at 13:52
‘Deep’ can come in various shapes. Frost’s repetition of the last line in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening can be described as deep, an author’s deliberate omission of a word using ellipsis can be described as deep as well , the use of polysyndeton, chiasmus, anaphora and many other literary techniques make the language of the writer deep. But here I want to highlight a particular skill –that of using words that carry many meanings regardless of the depth aspect. – mis-n-salem Jun 30 '13 at 14:27
I have nothing against the word deep btw but it doesn't carry my intended meaning. – mis-n-salem Jun 30 '13 at 14:29
Tanninah: deep and rich do carry the intended meaning, it's just that they are versatile words that could also mean something else. You can fix that by including a clarification, for example, something along the lines of, "The author's rich words have multiple layers of meaning," or, "This writing has depth in that many of the words are carefully chosen, and have hidden meanings." I share tchrist's curiosity, why use an obscure word like polysemous, which will be met with blank stares, when you can simply say what you mean, and mean what you say? – J.R. Jun 30 '13 at 15:09

The word nuanced is often used in such a context; eg “The writer’s language is so rich and nuanced.”

According to wiktionary, nuanced means

Having nuances; possessed of multiple layers of detail, pattern, or meaning [eg] The setting sunlight played through the gently waving branches, creating subtly nuanced transitions of color and tone as the shadows swept back and forth in the rosy glow.

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You might choose to use a word that is itself subject to interpretation on multiple layers or that may be a metaphor that captures the meaning you are looking for. There are a few like these, but I think some of these also pass as substitutes for "rich" as well:

vivid intensely deep or bright. (He has a vivid imagination. His essays produce vivid imagery to the reader.)

profound intense, emotional; deep (There were several subtle and profound references contained in his poem.)

imaginative given to imagination; producing ideas or mental images that are not obvious or evident (The speech was quite imaginative, and gave me several new ideas on how to proceed.)

figurative characterized or abounding in figures of speech (The figurative references left me thinking about many things that are clearly relevant to the man's history.)

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Perhaps stratified

to form or be formed in layers or strata

If you want to emphasize a sensuous richness, you could consider voluptuously stratified.

Voluptuous is defined as

Giving, characterized by, or suggesting ample, unrestrained pleasure to the senses: voluptuous sculptural forms; a voluptuous ripe fruit; a full, voluptuous figure.

Or, perhaps, voluptuously layered, since layered implies more than one layer, hence, multilayered.

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I'm not fond of stratified at all, but I must admit, I like voluptuous. (This wouldn't be a normal use of that adjective, yet it's so... deep, rich, voluptuous...) – J.R. Jun 30 '13 at 18:08
Voluptuously stratified sounds like you are describing a wedding cake :). – terdon Jun 30 '13 at 19:54
@J.R. How about voluptuously layered? Layered implies more than one. – bib Jun 30 '13 at 22:01
I like that one a lot; you ought to incorporate it into your answer. Stratified sounded too scientific, methinks. – J.R. Jun 30 '13 at 22:18

I would agree that both those words are very technical, and not suitable in most circumstances.

I would prefer a word like 'deep' - it is simple and easily understood, but still conveys the meaning you are looking for.

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