I read with great
consternation dismay this morning that one of my favorite go-to reference materials, the humble modest thesaurus, is widely maligned vilified by the cognoscenti scholars and practitioners. This has me feeling melancholy sorrowful.
Quite frankly, I don’t understand where all the hatred is coming from.
As outlined in this article (which, thankfully, stands in defense of the thesaurus), people who use it are considered pretentious. Not sure what that word means? If only we had some way of looking up a similar word in order to clear up any confusion…
Hey, wait. WE DO!
(Arrogant. Conceited. Pompous.)
To accuse the thesaurus as being responsible for “transport(ing) us to our current state of linguistic and intellectual mediocrity” is a bit harsh. Sure, you can overuse a thesaurus, and the results are often cringeworthy. Like, for instance, if you say “I’m feeling very borborygmic, gastroenterologically speaking,” when a simple “I’m hungry” would suffice, then you deserve heaps of ridicule ’cause that’s just stupid.
But used judiciously, the thesaurus can be your best friend. I rely on it so often, I actually have the Power Thesaurus Chrome extension downloaded to my laptop. But don’t worry, you won’t ever find me writing, “50 Shades of Grey is very piperacious!” because, first of all, I wouldn’t be caught dead reading a romance novel. But if I did, I might describe it as being “racy” instead.
As a writer and editor, one of my pet peeves is redundancy. I hate it when somebody uses the same word two or three times in a paragraph (or, worse still, the same sentence); I find it so distracting, whatever point they are trying to make is lost to me. So I will frequently turn to the thesaurus for alternate words. Not so-called $5 words, either; simple, straightforward replacements. If the synonym you are using requires the average reader to look up that word in a dictionary, you have failed, my friend.
Let’s say I was editing this paragraph (which, believe me, is very similar to a lot of what I deal with on a daily basis):
“If you’re looking to buy a house, don’t settle on the first house you see. And if you’ve looked at a dozen different houses but still haven’t found one you like, don’t despair: your perfect house is out there!”
See what I mean? Distracting! I might consult the trusty thesaurus and come up with the following edits:
“If you’re looking to buy a house, don’t settle on the first dwelling you see. And if you’ve looked at a dozen different residences but still haven’t found one you like, don’t despair: your perfect home is out there!”
No more distracting redundancy, and no need to consult the Oxford English Dictionary to look up “residence” or “dwelling.” If, however, I changed it to this…
“If you’re looking to buy a house, don’t settle on the first abode you see. And if you’ve looked at a dozen different domiciles but still haven’t found one you like, don’t despair: your perfect habitation is out there!”
…then you’d be well within your rights to bitch-slap me. That’s just ridiculous.
Also, not all synonyms are created equal. Take “permitting” and “allowing,” for example. Any thesaurus worth its weight will list both words, but what’s missing is context. You would say “I’m going hiking on Saturday, weather-permitting” but should never say “I’m going hiking on Saturday, weather-allowing.”
The lesson is this: don’t hate the thesaurus, hate the thesaurus user! I believe the KISS rule applies here: Keep It Simple Synonym-wise.
OK, gotta run. It’s almost repast time!