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"Even the smallest surmise of her husband dying scared her to death"

Is the word surmise used correctly in this sentence? Maybe "assumption" would fit better?

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    I wouldn't use either of your suggestions. But suggestion (or perhaps hint) would work fine. It won't resolve the "quirkiness" of the juxtaposition between the husband literally dying and the wife being figuratively scared to death, though. Nov 24, 2015 at 18:37
  • How can one say this without the abrupt shift you mentioned? Nov 24, 2015 at 18:43
  • If you like the quirkiness or don't think it matters, you don't need to do anything. Otherwise just use some other figurative expression such as ...put the fear of God into her, or be more literal (...terrified her). Nov 24, 2015 at 18:47
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    Incidentally, I'm not going to bother trying to establish it from a corpus search, but I more than suspect that even the slightest hint would win the popularity contest hands down. It's almost a "set phrase". Nov 24, 2015 at 18:51
  • I think u answered the question FumbleFingers and the question can be closed Nov 24, 2015 at 19:22

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To surmise involves making an educated guess.

After listening to the world renown evolutionary biologist's lecture, I surmised that no form of theism was part of his perspective or repertoire.

The auditor in this sentence, based on hearing perhaps just one lecture by the biologist, makes an educated guess that the biologist ascribes no legitimacy to the belief in a supernatural being called god (or God). Is his surmise accurate? Possibly. Only by questioning the lecturer in this regard could the surmise give way to a confirmed conclusion.

I therefore surmise that the word surmise is not a good fit for your sentence. A more appropriate word would be inkling, which means essentially

  • A slight hint or indication.

  • A slight understanding or vague idea or notion.

Moreover, the word smallest should probably give way to the word slightest. The consequent sentence would therefore be:

"Even the slightest inkling of her husband dying scared her to death"

Or,

"Even the slightest inkling of her husband's death virtually scared her to death."

Notice I italicized the second appearance of the word her in order to soften, as it were, the second appearance of the word death. The word virtually also reinforces the idea that her fear was serious but hardly fatal!

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