Tags:
  1. Caramello Koala
    Offline

    Caramello Koala Member

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2013
    Messages:
    71
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia

    Thesaurus - Good or Bad?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Caramello Koala, May 15, 2014.

    I use an online thesaurus frequently when I'm writing and find that I almost rely on it. Before the internet and the almost instant access to a list of synonyms for any word, writers would've had to actually pick up a tangible thesaurus and leaf through the pages if they were stuck, and I imagine most of the time they would instead try to think of one themselves to save the time. Doing so would've likely consolidated one's vocabulary better and made it easier (due to practice) for them to be able to conjure up different synonyms themselves without the help of a thesaurus. These days, however, one can simply look it up.

    Does anyone here think that overusing a thesaurus can limit one's own ability to semantically map out and think of unique words? Is it a crutch that limits our writing potential, or a powerful tool that expands it?
     
  2. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,828
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Nope, I love the thesaurus but I've got an electronic one that is a thesaurus/dictionary so that when I use the thesaurus I can look up the meaning of words lickety-split. Thereby making sure I've chosen the right one. Not only am I learning new words, I'm learning the nuances between certain words.

    I think that as long as you use the thesaurus properly - always with a dictionary handy - there's no harm and in fact after using it for years the words will be so ingrained, after a while you will reach for it less and less.
     
  3. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    I don't advocate a thesaurus for beginning writers - they do tend to rely on them way too much. They also tend to think of synonyms as "meaning the same" instead of "being similar to". I use the thesaurus when I know what I'm looking for but the exact word escapes me - not to find some other word for one that works just fine.
     
  4. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,024
    Likes Received:
    1,125
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    I almost feel that if you don't know a word you should not use it.
    Language is full of emotion and slight differences in similar words that can make a strong impact.
    Also, if your general writing typically has day-to-day words it'd be odd seeing the odd big word pop out that clashes with the rest.

    So, if you want another word for afraid/fear because you already written in 5 times in the same paragraph, thesaurus would give you paralyzed and terrified.
    Paralyzed could easily be misused and terrified might be too strong for the situation.

    As always, use caution while handling a thesaurus.
     
    jannert likes this.
  5. FrankieWuh
    Offline

    FrankieWuh Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2014
    Messages:
    191
    Likes Received:
    107
    Location:
    Deepest Darkest UK
    A thesaurus is like any writing tool, it's good in moderation. Any "Friends" fan can remind you the disaster of using a thesaurus too much (as in Joey's letter to the adoption agency). Simply, a thesaurus expands your writing vocabulary but each word chosen should be checked for contextual use rather than because it sounds good, a trap many new writers fall into. As to inhibiting our own ability to come up with unique words, I'd say "no"... if it's used to explore the possibilities and expands our writing world.

    I use an electronic thesaurus when I get hit with brain fog ("there's a word I wanna use, but damn if I can't remember it!"). I use the paper thesaurus if I'm not happy with a word and I want alternatives.
    The latter I use say twice a chapter.
    The former, too frickin' much! :p
     
    peachalulu likes this.
  6. Caramello Koala
    Offline

    Caramello Koala Member

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2013
    Messages:
    71
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    That's what I was trying to get at, but don't think I articulated it well enough. When I get 'brain fog' and know of a better word but can't fetch it, I will look up the word I used in the thesaurus and scan the synonyms until I find the word I'm wanting to use instead (or a word that is similar and contextually relevant, but one that I recognise and am not choosing purely on an aesthetic level - ie, to show off wordiness. The thing is, I find that this happens more and more frequently, and I'm wondering if there is any correlation between this and thesaurus overuse. I feel that it's though my brain is saying 'don't worry about archiving this properly as you can always use the memory retrieval cues of the thesaurus to bring it back later if you need it'.
     
  7. ddavidv
    Offline

    ddavidv Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2013
    Messages:
    353
    Likes Received:
    240
    Location:
    Pennsylvania, USA
    I use it pretty often (electronic version). As my hair turns more gray, I find that the right words do not fall into place with the ease they once did. I typically use it to cure the 'repetitive word' problem in a paragraph, but am careful to use a word that flows well and also carries the proper meaning for the sentence. I try not to use obscure words unless they absolutely fit the criteria of my prior sentence...with rare occasion an odd but juicy word does rear itself, and I'll throw it in there just to make my reader look it up. ;) But this only happens once or twice in a book.
     
  8. rhduke
    Offline

    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2013
    Messages:
    733
    Likes Received:
    158
    Location:
    Canada
    I don't see a problem with it. It expands your knowledge of synonymous words so you don't have to keep going back to the thesaurus the next time you encounter those words.
     
    peachalulu likes this.
  9. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,784
    Likes Received:
    7,299
    Location:
    Scotland
    Yes, I was going to say something similar but you beat me to it. :)

    Very very few words in the English language are exact synonyms. Substituting one word for another is not often the best plan. It's often better, when you find yourself repeating certain words, to think of another way to get the concept across, rather than just sticking in a different word. Your meaning can become very diluted.

    As Shadowwalker said, a Thesaurus comes in handy when you KNOW there's a word you're looking for and can't remember it. You look up your word's second cousin in your trusty Thesaurus, and the actual word you want jumps out at you. YES that's it!

    That's when the Thesaurus becomes a very valuable tool.
     
    Renee J, xanadu and peachalulu like this.
  10. rhduke
    Offline

    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2013
    Messages:
    733
    Likes Received:
    158
    Location:
    Canada
    Yes, this totally.
     
  11. Happiegrrrl
    Offline

    Happiegrrrl New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2013
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    New Paltz, NY
    I will often use a thesaurus when I find I've duplicated a word within a passage. I try not to use the T as a "go to" while in the midst of a text block, as I find it interrupts my rhythm.

    Another way I use it is when I am having a block on the exact word I am searching my mind for. I know I have a specific word I want but damned if I can bring it up at times!It is very comforting to look up a similar word and have Mr. T remind me of the one I want.
     
  12. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    ditto that!

    which is why i always tell folks to lock up their thesaurus till they don't need one...
     
    xanadu and shadowwalker like this.
  13. xanadu
    Offline

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    552
    Likes Received:
    407
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    The thesaurus should have died out with the rest of the dinosaurs...:p
     
  14. caters
    Offline

    caters Member

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2014
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    5
    most synonyms are near synonyms meaning that it doesn't mean the exact definition but something similar.

    For example pregnant and big. They are near synonyms because while they can mean the same thing if you are talking about pregnant idea vs. big idea, when you apply the word pregnant and the word big to something else they all of a sudden have a different meaning in the phrase.

    There are also complete synonyms which are rare, near antonyms which are very common and is where it isn't exactly the opposite but is very opposite, and complete antonyms which I think are more common than complete synonyms but still rare.
     
  15. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    Nothing outdated or obsolete about a thesaurus. It can be a very useful tool if not abused.
     
    xanadu likes this.
  16. xanadu
    Offline

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    552
    Likes Received:
    407
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    The need to be punny clearly outweighed the need to cover all the bases...you're right, of course, for the reason you originally posted.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,967
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I think that it's dangerous to use a thesaurus to find words that you aren't already thoroughly familiar with--a dictionary isn't going to give you the nuances that you need to judge whether the word is safe to use.
     
  18. caters
    Offline

    caters Member

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2014
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    5
    dictionary.com and thesaurus.com are friends because you can go to dictionary.com from thesaurus.com or have the dictionary and thesaurus in different tabs so that you can see definitions of all the complete synonyms, near synonyms, near antonyms, and complete antonyms of a particular word and the thesaurus as well(sometimes a thesaurus gives you like 1 definition of a word and sometimes several definitions for things like have and then synonyms and antonyms of the word with that definition)
     
  19. JetBlackGT
    Offline

    JetBlackGT Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    465
    Likes Received:
    158
    Location:
    Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
    I keep my thesaurus in my head :) I imagine it as a small, benevolent, intelligent dinosaur. With a huge vocabulary of seldom-used words. Like what you'd get if you read a lot :)

    A warning about thesauri (the book, not the imaginary dinosaur, which I am now seeing as being like an overexcited dog), they can give you a more archaic word than you want. Stick to ones your readers will at least be passingly familiar with. In blogging it's great to use a rare word but you don't want to go so far as to use one that 90% of your readers will literally need to look up.

    One of the great things about reading on the Kindle is its definition feature! Put your finger on the word and it pops up the definition, instantly. Mostly I find this useful when reading Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child books. Sometimes there is one new word per page. Kriminy!
     
  20. Caramello Koala
    Offline

    Caramello Koala Member

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2013
    Messages:
    71
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    The new update on the Kindle now has a 'vocabulary builder' that keeps a record of all the words you've looked up in the dictionary (with the sentence you looked it up from as the example sentence) and tests you on the words so you can commit them to memory! Gotta love the Kindle. When I made this thread I didn't mean to ask if using the thesaurus is bad in the sense of using it to replace words with ones that you didn't know previously or words that aren't exact synonyms. That's obviously a bad reason to use one. Whenever I use a thesaurus it's to replace a word with one that I know, but just can't retrieve from my long term memory. It's like writer's block, but for word retrieval, and I've been finding myself getting it more and more since I've started using the thesaurus. I'm thinking there might be a correlation. Either that or my brain's giving up on me.
     
    JetBlackGT likes this.
  21. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    exactly!... which is why i say to lock it up till you don't need it... meaning it's best to improve your vocabulary [i.e., not only learn more words, but be familiar with what they all mean and how they can be used] first...
     
  22. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,828
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    For a beginner I agree with this, but I don't know if I agree with this for someone whose beyond a beginner. When I started out as a teenager a thesaurus didn't do me any favors. I took everything as too interchangeable, too literal. Now, I don't find using it a big deal.

    Maybe I don't use it as much as I think I do or maybe I'm cautious to learn as much as I can about a word before I use it. I think a beginner writer should read more and from a huge variety - a word will stick when you see it used in it's context a hundred times easier than finding something in a dictionary. But I'd never dump the thesaurus as a resource.
     
  23. caters
    Offline

    caters Member

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2014
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    5
    A good example of this is if you put in grandmother or mother in a thesaurus one of the synonyms you will find is ancestor and ancestor means the person who started the family tree not just a person far in the family tree like your 3-great grandparents are or very old if not dead like your grandparents are.
     

Share This Page