1. Reveen
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    Reveen New Member

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    Thesaurus Messing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Reveen, Sep 25, 2011.

    Okay. Starting. A new thread not a few minutes from registry. Bad idea. But I really gotta know. What's the general reaction to Thesuarus abuse. I'm not talking looking up random words to make yourself looking smarter but looking up alternatives for words so you don't end up using the same word like five times in a row whe you have to.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that it's usually a bad idea. I'd guess that it's more important to ask yourself _why_ you're using the same word five times in a row. If you find that you're using "house" and "domicile" and "dwelling" and "home" and "habitat", then something is fundamentally wrong with the writing.
     
  3. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Use whatever language comes natural to you. If the author is spending more time using the dictionary and thesaurus more than writing their book, they're doing it wrong. More often than not, people will use these words incorrectly and ultimately obfuscate their readers with a myriad of scarcely-used words in lieu of simpler and more reader-friendly ones.
     
  4. LParadise
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    LParadise New Member

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    Personally I just write whatever words pop into my head as I'm writing. I try not to think to hard about whether another word would sound better, I focus on only getting my ideas down. Then I put it away for the night. The next day I pull it back out and read what I've written with fresh eyes, when I come across a scenario where I seem to be using the same word a lot I try to see if maybe I can just remove the word all together and rewrite the sentence so it's no longer needed, or think of another word to replace it. I very rarely use a thesaurus. I haven't taken any special English classes or anything of that nature, so I figure that if I know the word and it's meaning, then the average reader will more than likely know it and it's meaning as well.

    This is just my personal preference.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my standard counsel to writers is to lock away their thesaurus till they don't need one...
     
  6. Bodhisattva
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    Bodhisattva Member

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    Thesaurus BAD

    Reading GOOD

    Both expand your vocab, the latter does it better.
     
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not wary of the thesaurus. Typically I use it when I know what I want but can't think of the word - the thesaurus gives me that "Oh, for heaven's sake! I knew that!" - because the word will be listed there. It shouldn't be a substitute for your own vocabulary, but like any writer's tool, can be helpful in getting your point across accurately.
     
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  8. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    There is nothing wrong with using a thesaurus to avoid repeating the same term 3 times in the same paragraph or 5 times on the same page.

    In fact it takes some skill to pick just the right word out of a thesaurus, which often gives you 10 - 20 alternative words that mean almost the same thing.
     
  9. Rassidan
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    Rassidan Senior Member

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    It really depends on why you are using it in the first place. Are you looking for a more descriptive word for say tired or are you just tring to negate repetition. The first I don't have a problem with and use it for this reason most of the time. Yet as others have said if you are using it to resolve repetition then you may have more of an issue with your writing style than the word itself.
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, there is! If you use different words for the same thing then the reader is left wondering whether you meant different things by different words, so it makes the readers fall over your text. As others have pointed out, if you use a thesaurus to avoid repetition then you are ignoring the far more serious problem of why you are repeating yourself.
     
  11. Hawwyboo
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    Hawwyboo Member

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    You need to understand exactly what the word you are using means. The words a thesaurus suggests may be synonyms or near-synonyms, but in the former case there will probably be different connotations or the word may be too obscure to sell to the casual reader, and in the latter case the definitive difference might render the word contextually inappropriate. I don't think it's fundamentally wrong to use a thesaurus, there's no 'right' way to write, but if you just throw in words without thinking you'll eventually write something nonsensical. Besides, it's more skilful to build up your vocabulary and to be able to use it without relying on a thesaurus, and it will help you become more expressive in everyday speech.

    Personally I've never seen the problem with referring to something by the same word five (or ten) times in a row in prose, but it's also okay when it varies now and again. What I don't like is when the word changes every single time. It's tiresome, unnecessary and pretty much proves that the writer was using a thesaurus or had spent ten minutes thinking of different synonyms, which would of course distract from the story and ruin any chances of immersing the reader.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    A quick hack of an example - imagine that you start with the following:

    The entire Sunday school came to help with the house. A dozen of them busily panted the outside of the house, while the rest cleaned the windows of the house. The leader of the group arranged the furniture inside the house, while the flower arrangers' guild cleaned up the garden and scrubed the dozens of gnomes ranged around the outside of the house.

    You dislike the repetition of the word "house", so you wander through a thesaurus and commit the following horror:

    The entire Sunday school came to help with the house. A dozen of them were busy painting the outside of the dwelling, while the rest cleaned the windows of the domicile. The leader of the group arranged the furniture inside the cottage, while the flower arrangers' guild cleaned up the garden and scrubbed the dozens of gnomes ranged around the outside of the bungalow.

    Noooo!

    Instead, you rearrange to avoid the repetition:

    The entire Sunday school came to help with the house. A dozen of them busily scraped and painted the siding, while the rest cleaned the windows. The leader of the group arranged the furniture inside, while the flower arrangers' guild scoured the garden, weeding and pruning as well as scrubbing dozens of garden gnomes.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A thesaurus is a vicious and wily beast who will always bite you in the ass if you are not fully in control. Never trust what it tells you, unless you know for a fact that it is telling the complete truth.

    It will always tell you cetain words mean the same or opposite things, but these are half truths. Words are not, as a rule, interchangeable. and you must know exactly what a word means to use it effectively. You have to not only know the dictionary definition (the denotation), but also the nuances of meaning associated with the word (the connotation).

    As Maia said, lock up your thesaurus until you no longer need it. Only refer to it if you have a senior moment and cannot put your finger on a word you know but can't -- quite -- remember.

    But "senior moments" don't come from age. There are disorders that can cause memory loss, but most "senior moments" come from disuse. Maia is senior to most of us, but I doubt she often has to fish for a word. Neither does my eighty-one year old mother.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true, cog... most of my senior moments consist of things like forgetting which of my 3 pairs of glasses i have on and wondering why what i'm looking at doesn't look right--suffering the fleeting fear that my sight's on another downslide! :eek:

    and hey, that used to happen even in my 40s, three decades ago, so can't be blamed on age... ;)
     
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  15. CULLEN DORN
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    CULLEN DORN Member

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    Welcome to a wonderful forum Reveen!
    I find both a dictionary and thesaurus a blessing. Nothing wrong with using a thesaurus at all.
    As long as the word does not overwhelm the flow and rhythm of the sentence. Otherwise it
    might be akin to a homeless, disheveled man in worn-out rags sporting a pair of new shoes.
    Don't mean to use this as an analogy but I hope you know what I mean. Anyway, welcome!
    :)
     
  16. EMSchell2009
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    EMSchell2009 Member

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    I agree with Cogito. I only pull mine out if I want to find the right nuance. NEVER if I find myself needing to find another word because I HAVE used a word 100 times. Another suggestion. Play scrabble with someone with more words than you; Rassidan beats me every time, (Don't let it go to your head Rassidan, it doesn't make you smarter) but I learn at least three new words every single game. (PS. For scrabble feel free to go to your thesaurus) When I am writing I may pull my thesaurus out, but if I do not know the word personally it does not get into my writing. How do you get to know a word personally? Simple. Use it. I love words, I try to learn several new ones a week. How is always relative, one way is to ask people to define a word you have never heard. My mother loves to be asked. Another way is to play the dictionary game. My kids love it. We pull out the dictionary and each of us finds a new word that we don't know. We write them down and then make a point to use them often during the week. Many words have gotten into regular usage that way in our house. Another is simply to read and don't be afraid to look things up. I look up all kinds of thing when reading. A thesaurus is a tool, but not a writing tool. A reading tool. I hope this helps.

    Stumpage-the money paid to the owner of standing timber before it is harvested.
    My latest new word from scrabble.
     
  17. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Using a thesaurus is like using a nuclear bomb. Either you get hated on and lynched by everyone(likely), or you achieve good results(unlikely, even Hiroshima was criticized, even though it was a fairly good move).
     
  18. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Don't have any comments about thesauruses that someone already hasn't said. But the dictionary's cool for things other than definitions. I found out "coffeemaker" isn't two words but one, the plural of "oxymoron" is "oxymora," and "impact" isn't a verb. Does the word "heatwave" actually exist (it doesn't; it's "heat wave")? Is the past tense of sneak "snuck" or "sneaked" in the U.S.? Dictionaries have their uses. Don't lock them up yet. Plus, for some reason, I always have to septuple-check the proper spelling for "sherrif." Two R's or two F's? I have no idea why, but I always blank on that word and Merriam-Webster bails me out.
     
  19. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    I don't think using a thesaurus is bad, or a dictionary for that matter. I think one shouldn't abuse it, and I think the fear of abuse is what generates the "it's evil" stigma about it ... kind of like how writers are often criticized with "show, don't tell" or how they shouldn't use any word other than "said" in dialogue tags. It's not something to avoid completely, and it can be helpful; it just requires the writer to do a little research on the words they choose instead of just finding a plug or alternative. If you find a word you like but don't know, just make sure you do the research on that word. Look it up in dictionaries, see how it's used in sentences and other works, find out what kind of context it fits into, etc. Basically, don't pick a word and plug it in if you are ignorant of its meaning(s) because you "like it better."
     
  20. James Huston
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    James Huston Member

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    yes

    I'll be honest and say that I use a thesaurus quite a lot, but I always complement my "research" with dictionary cross-references. I stress RESEARCH because whenever you use a dictionary or thesaurus you are doing research and not just simply looking up words.

    As far as the level of jargon you use in your sentence structure goes... well it doesn't seam that you're asking that question, but a lot of readers will often times be quick to judge a writer who says he uses a dictionary or thesaurus. The undeniable instinct of most hearing you say that is "Oh, he's trying to sound smarter." If there is any negative connotation that is associated with responses of that nature know you need not give them much credence. Our intelligence as writers will always stem from the way we weave sentences together and convey our thoughts accurately and efficiently to our audience. This more so than words themselves.
     
  21. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would suggest making a concerted effort to expand your vocabulary in general and lock the thesaurus in a drawer until you REALLY need it for something. As Cog said, sometimes the thesaurus lies and, if you do not know which times that may be, it can be a 'vicious and wiley beast' indeed.
     
  22. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    I think there's nothing wrong with using a thesaurus, so long as you confine yourself to words you're already familiar with.

    Also the nuclear bomb analogy is one of the screwiest I've seen in a while.
     

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