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Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives Paperback – June 7, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


(Starred review) ... zestfully written, this...reviviscent, wordy fun is to be read as well as consulted, and what gonzo joy awaits language lovers as Plotnik serves up high-fiveable hot sauce for the brain. --Donna Seaman, --Booklist, April 15, 2011

...Whether you use this book ... when stuck for a thwackingly good superlative or ... to turbo-charge your vocabulary... you'll find the ... industrial-strength verbal inventiveness that you're seeking. --Chuck Leddy --The Writer magazine, June 2011

...well-written, and engaging.... As a reference tool for writers, Better Than Great is just that.  All readers will ... find it supremely fascinating to learn of the terms .... to express greatness.--Barry Silverstein --ForeWord, April 4, 2011

An energetic escape from the literary languor that enwreathes writers and speakers addicted to stale adjectives . . . . Together with two of his earlier works on writing style . . . Better Than Great completes an unmatched triplicity of linguistic perfection. ---George Eberhart, College & Research Library News, Oct. 2011.

"Released last year and written by lexophile Arthur Plotnik, Better than Great is a book I have found useful in fixing buzzword bingo. It reads like a funky thesaurus and includes an assortment of over 6000 words and suggestions for describing things—pulling from rare gems, vintage gold, and even phrases influenced by hip hop to present a wide range of fresh superlatives. It is both amusing and vocabulary expanding."
—Crazy Moon Consulting

"I've yet to come across a Plotnik book that fails to offer sagacious advice for us as writers and editors, this one now included."
—Peter P. Jacobi, Editors Only:The Newsletter of Editorial Achievement

"It’s difficult to describe how a thesaurus is entertaining, but the author has managed it. From the sheer number of quality adjectives, I imagine I would find one in this terrific – scratch that – frabjous compendium."
—Portland Book Review

"This book easily provided the most fun I’ve ever had in a thesaurus. To make look-up easy and accessible, Plotnik divides the words into fifteen categories: Great, Sublime, Physically Affecting, Mentally or Emotionally Affecting, Beautiful, Joy-Giving, Large, Exceptional, Intense, Delicious, Trendy, Cool, Wicked Cool, Forceful, and Challenging Belief or Expression. He fronts each chapter with a fun intro that explains the chapter to follow and offers insight into his choices and how to utilize the book to full impact."
—Author Culture

"One of today's most distinguished writers on language and writing style — a freaking genius-god in the writing world." — Jessica Page Morrell, Powell's Books Blog

"[W]hat could be as fabulous, stupendous, showstopping, socko-boffo and epiphanic as this neatly organized, humorous yet helpful 'acclamatory hoard' of words for praising?"
—Jim Higgins, Book Editor, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Plotnik's "acclamatory hoard" is every bit as entertaining as it is useful. And (to lift one phrase) that ain't exactly chopped herring, considering it gives this critic some 6,000 substitutes for feeble old "amazing" and its ilk." — Bruce Ingram, film and entertainment critic, Sun-Times Media/Pioneer Press

"Better Than Great is . . . more entertaining and informative than any book of lists has a right to be." — Richard Nordquist, About.com/Grammar and Composition

". . . a wide range of fresh superlatives in a number of categories, pulling from rare gems and vintage gold all the way through current phrases influenced by hip-hop. . . . [T]here are plenty of forms of marketing communications that could use of an injection of less-worn adjectives . . . So for writers of all shapes and sizes Better than Great is indeed just that." — Adam Sherk, adamsherk.com, News Media, SEO, PR and social media marketing blog

"Do you feel ... sometimes that you're stuck on a couple of words, unable to move beyond them? Well then, we have the book for you!"
–Robin Young, "Here and Now," WBUR and NPR affiliates, August 11, 2011.

"Arthur Plotnik is a masterly expert on the use and the writing of the English language . . . a master of superlatives."
—Milt Rosenberg, "Extension 720," WGN (Chicago), June 26, 2011

"Offers an energetic escape from the literary languor that enwreathes writers and speakers…Together with two of his earlier works on writing style—Spunk & Bite (2007) and The Elements of Expression, Better Than Great completes an unmatched triplicity of linguistic perfection."
—College Academic Resources Library

"Arthur Plotnik's Better than Great is a bouquet of perfection, a feel-good, all-purpose A-list Angel Cake of big-league tips on how to turn your complimentary powers into blue chip, berserkely good, yowzwers of social and professional opportunity." — Alan Kaufman, author of Jew Boy, A Memoir and editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry

"AMEN-ASTONISHING!" — Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate

"For those who find themselves at a loss for praise-worthy words, feel there’s a paucity of acclamatory expressions, or believe we are numbed by the plethora of platitudes that pass for superlatives, Arthur Plotnik’s new book is better than great; it is iridescently indispensable, a bare-knuckled barrel of berserkley fun words." — Phil Cousineau, author of Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words

"Better than Great comes in the guise of a single-purpose synonym finder. But it's craftier than that. Arthur Plotnik shows us how masterful writers rub words together to make fire." — Constance Hale, author of Sin and Syntax

"How to describe this book? Choose any term from pages 7 to 30. I'd call it perfection printed and bound." — Bryan A. Garner, author of Garner's Modern American Usage

"Even I loved Art Plotnik's sublimely subversive exercises in adverbs used audaciously." — Dave Kindred, author of Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post, and adverbophobiac

"Have you used the word 'great' or 'fantastic' or 'awesome' in the last week? Ha! I thought so. Everyone has. And it's getting really really tiresome. In your hands lies a new way of life. Word -adroit Art Plotnik has compiled a collection of hundreds of juicy alternatives to your three favorite superlatives. A feloniously fun bedtime browsing treat, Better Than Great is also an unimpeachably useful daytime reference work. I can't believe I ever got published without it. It is, in a word, ripsniptious! (P.S. Never lend this book to anyone. You will not get it back. That happened to me.)" — Rosalie Maggio, author of How to Say It

"...a veritable plea to the masses, especially the portion of the masses that makes a habit of critiquing things. And really, who doesn't?" — Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune, July 16, 2011

"...delightful, spankingly amusing... Plotnik presents hundreds of words and phrases that will make any conversation a sojourn through paradise... — Terri Schlichenmeyer, Shelf Awareness for Readers, July 15, 2011

"I’m just back from . . . singing the praises of the 185 Young Writers who participated in the 7th Annual Mill Creek Young Writers Literacy Institute. The teachers LOVED my newest Writer’s Bookshelf Recommendation: Better Than Great. . . . [The book] is just that - a true landfall of bliss for any lover of words."
—Esther Hershenhorn, author and educator, on Teachingauthors.com, August 3, 2011

"If you want to add insane quantities of crackle and sizzle to your writing, look no further than Better Than Great ... a no-holds-barred ... guide for any writer looking to rid themselves forever of the stale, cumbersome baggage of overused and boring superlatives."
–Julia Tagliere, Buzzle.com, August 3, 2011

From the Back Cover

Say goodbye to "awesome" and "amazing" and say hello to Better Than Great, a veritable TKO of stale superlatives with almost 6,000 alternative terms. Lexophile Arthur Plotnik presents a skull-spinning assortment of words and ideas for describing extraordinary things—the exceptionally beautiful, joyful, delicious, large, forceful, intense, trendy and more—even 50 gr8t texting superlatives! Better Than Great is the must-have reference for anyone seeking to rise above tired superlatives when the quality matters, as in love, commerce, and the arts. Critics, journalists, poets, speakers, sales reps, bloggers, Twitterers—word slingers from the whole digital and literary spectrum—should find it to be a concussively euphoriant, supernal, larky, epiphanic, über-cool, soul-juddering experience, an upful and endorphining jubilee to make the heart warble. Take your vocabulary of acclaim from woeful to whoa-ful, and don't praise anything without Better Than Great!

Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Viva Editions (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781573446600
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573446600
  • ASIN: 1573446602
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #624,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Arthur Plotnik, in spite of his funny name, is a versatile author with a distinguished background in editing and publishing. Two of his works have been featured as Book-of-the-Month Club selections: "The Elements of Editing," a standard reference through some 20 printings, and "The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words." Reviewers have consistently praised Plotnik's writing for its accuracy, style, and wit, often ranking it with "The Elements of Style" (Strunk & White)in practicality. However, his popular "Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style" (Random House)challenges some of Strunk & White's inhibiting dictates as it guides the writer to more risk-taking, more adventurous, more publishable prose.

His latest book, published in June 2012 by Viva Editions (Berkeley, CA)completely updates "The Elements of Expression" in a revised and expanded edition. The previous year Viva published his "Better than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives," offering 6,000 alternatives to "great," "awesome," "amazing" and other shopworn terms of praise and acclamation. (www.freshsuperlatives.com) Former Poet Leaureate Billy Collins calls it "AMEN-ASTONISHING!"

A native of White Plains, N.Y., Plotnik studied under Philip Roth and Vance Bourjaily in the Iowa Writers Workshop. After an Army stint, he served as a staff writer on the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, where novelist-to-be William Kennedy worked across the city desk, puffing cigars.

Plotnik ground out 22 pseudonymnous potboilers for the Scott-Meredith Literary Agency, some of them while completing work on the second of two master's degrees (English, library service). In his return to respectability, he surfaced in Washington, D.C, as press and public relations assistant to the Librarian of Congress and newsletter editor. He was later a magazine editor in New York, where the second of his two daughters was born.

As a publisher, Plotnik brought five national awards to the American Library Association's book imprint. He won numerous honors also as editor of "American Libraries," ALA's flagship magazine.

Plotnik has written scores of magazine articles and columns, eight nonfiction books (including his first writer's guide, "The Elements of Authorship") and short stories and poems. He has appeared in publications ranging from "La Prensa" (Bolivia) and "Playboy" to "The New York Times" and "Los Angeles Times." A contributor to "The Writer Magazine" and member of its editorial board, he has also contributed to "Britannica Book of English Usage" and the "American English" column of "American Way" in-flight magazine.

A passionate observer of trees, he is author of "The Urban Tree Book: An Uncommon Field Guide for City and Town," illustrated by his wife, the artist Mary H. Phelan. "The New York Times Book Review" called this work "indispensable." On July 4 of the Constitution's 200th birthday year (1987), the National Archives published his "The Man Behind the Quill," a biography of the Constitution's calligrapher, Jacob Shallus. The award-winning book was highlighted in "Time" magazine and praised as "a small miracle of research."

A popular speaker, Plotnik taught briefly in the journalism department at Columbia College in Chicago. Special honors include service as a charter board member, American Book Awards, and first place in the prestigious "Verbatim" national competition for essays on the English language. He is listed in "Who's Who," "Contemporary Authors," "Journalists of the United States, and other directories of writers and journalists. He lives in Chicago with his wife, the artist Mary H. Phelan, and is represented by literary agent Roger Williams of New England Publishing Associates.


BRAGGIN' ON "SPUNK & BITE" AT TEN. This year (2015) I'm reveling in the 10th anniversary of SPUNK & BITE my "Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style." Random House published the hardcover in 2005 and the paperback in 2007. About 37,000 sales later it's still chugging along, scoring gratifying reviews, in use at Harvard and in many writing programs, and--perhaps most pleasing-- winning thanks from aspiring individuals. Just today this tweet appeared from a writer who goes by "Danger Geist": "I used Spunk&Bite to spice up my 2012 war memoir. It turned out better than it should have. I am grateful . . . ." And I'm grateful--as a writer who has experienced plenty of the trade's downsides--for the sweet life of this one effort. Pictured: The paperback cover, with designer Nora Rosansky's spunky pooch. --Feb. 23, 2015

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
but, your use of language says a lot about you. Esteemed author and wordsmith Arthur Plotnik (The Elements of Editing a modern guide for editors and journalists ) has produced a tidy little antidote to the banal. Does "awesome" just not have the kick it used to? Plotnik explains in his brief introduction that overuse tempers impact. If you want to get your point across with panache don't use the phrases heard flying from every tongue.

This little book is a hybrid dictionary-thesaurus, drawn from a variety of sources as varied as the venerable OED to "Dagrees Great Aussie Slang" and the "Rap Dictionary". Words and phrases are assorted by tone and hue. Is it great? better than great? life changing? There's a word or phrase for it.

The appendices reminded me of a baby name book I flipped through years ago. In this section he provides information on words and phrases which are old but not abused, terms from across the ocean (whichever side of which ocean you are on,) txt-speak; words and acronyms drawn from our fast-paced texting society.

For some it will add spice to your writing or speech, for others, maybe cue you in to what your kids (or parents) are saying. For others still it will allow you to call attention to... those things you wish to call attention to: ebay listings, event announcements, business memos...
and for other still it will elevate you from the slum of linguistic turpitude. (Can I get a bulk discount of a pallet of these to hand to anyone who tacks "alicious" onto anything? If I could do that, maybe it would have a Zoroastrian impact on my existence ;)

I dithered over giving this book 4 or 5 stars.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is the best kind of browsing book, I think. He breaks positive words up into 15 categories and gives each category (such as 'joy-giving') a chapter, listing all sorts of marvelous adjectives that range from the erudite to the quirky. For example, under 'joy-giving' you might find 'festal' and 'felicitous' but also 'inner-space salve' and 'wit that could sharpen pencils'.

He also provides a tasty quote and little boxes, such as 'vintage gold' for each chapter, and one list of four adjectives that might describe wine. End segments include some textese praise, eponymous adjectives (Napoleonic!) and my favorite--the 'habit breaker' appendix of words to replace tired out zingless words like 'amazing'.

I love words, and it's clear that Plotnick loves them, too, and has spent time and humor collecting and collating this wonderful collection. And, strangely enough, it's hard to read a thesaurus of praise words without feeling...a little happier at the end.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has raised my benchmark for brilliance when it comes to writing with superlatives. What a relief, to move beyond "great" and "awesome!" I have been using this reference constantly for the past week and it has already earned a prime position on my desk. I now consider it a must-have for bloggers and critics.

In response to the negative reviews on this book... For those who thrive on precise organization, or who twitch compulsively when facing variability, this may not be the reference for you. However, for those who feel let down by their thesaurus when their brainstorming dead ends at the same old synonyms, this is the book that will get your mind moving once more.

Personally, I find that Plotnik provides just enough organization to make the book searchable, but not so much that the reader feels limited. Whenever I want to find a synonym for a word, I simply decide if my intended meaning falls into one of his fifteen categories. Did I want to convey size? I look under "Large." If I meant to convey a sensation in the body I would look under "Physically Affecting," or if it were a sensation of the spirit I would go to "Sublime" or "Challenging Belief or Expression." This may all sound vague, but I assure you it has worked well for me. A thesaurus nitpicks over semantics. Plotnick cuts to the chase and helps your say what you mean.

One more thing. For those who argued that Plotnik included too many whimsical or nonsensical words, I would respond that whimsy can come in handy when you least expect it. My blog post on cupcakes does not need the corny (and hilarious) term "Viagara on a plate" but if I ever write myself into a corner while describing a delicious barbeque sausage sandwich, I have a feeling it might prove useful. (And hilarious.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Better Than Great has value in that it makes you think about stretching your use of language a bit. Ideally this book should have been a 3000 or so word magazine article on how using novel words to express praise can make for more effective writing. What the author has done, though, is take something that would have been an interesting short read and blown it up to create a pseudo-reference book. There are thousands of words and phrases here that supposedly can be used in place of excellent, great, outstanding, etc. The lion's share of them are beyond ridiculous. I'd never use them, that's for certain. For example, no, I don't think it's ever a good idea to replace "delicious" with "amorously prepared". I'll save the kissing for after the meal, thank you very much.

If you got carried away and tried to use the approach here to express praise (and used a similar approach to come up with your own phrases for things you didn't like), the writing would end up comical, like something out of the fake 40's and 50's Hollywood tabloid articles you find in a James Ellroy novel (those fake articles are funny as anything by the way).

The book has so many silly, non-usable phrases that it becomes hard to find the good ones, much less the great ones. I'd never use this book as a reference. I did enjoy reading it however for an hour or so. It made me think about language in a thoughtful way, and that's always a good thing.
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