You’ll Have to Pry that Thesaurus from my Frosty, Deceased Hands!

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. thesaurus

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!

37 thoughts on “You’ll Have to Pry that Thesaurus from my Frosty, Deceased Hands!

  1. A person who maligns the thesaurus would drive a nail with a wrench, even if a hammer were available. A thesaurus is a most useful tool. Sesquapedalian writing is about the writer, not the tools.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. One of my prized possessions is a 1937 Thesaurus. Those who hate on the thesaurus need to reexamine their motivations for maligning a good writing tool. Perhaps this is a case of self-loathing and projection.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. The most interesting feature to me is that while it’s an English language thesaurus there are Latin phrases included. The phrases aren’t defined in English because the assumption is that you know what those Latin phrases mean. Kind of trippy.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t have a paper thesaurus, but I used Google’s built-in one this weekend writing a paper for class. Because I figured typing the phrases “risk management” and “risk assessment” five times in one paragraph was a bit redundant, I had to search for alternatives. A thesaurus is a critical!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh! And I used paper twice just now in the same sentence. Let me change that to: I don’t have a thesaurus in book form, but I used Google’s built-in one this weekend writing an essay for class.


      1. Haha. I actually didn’t even notice that until you pointed it out. There are far worse examples than that! I’m just glad you’re Team Thesaurus like me. ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. I love love love online thesauruses. Or whatever the plural is. Love this post too with the crossed-out words. Ha!

    I often re-read my stuff like a possessed person before publishing and still, I find my published piece with a duplicate, same word in the same paragraph later on. Makes me cringe!

    Sometimes I have to change word order around, or use the passive voice (omg)…but that thesaurus is always handy when I write.

    There is a blog post someplace I stumbled across a while back that helpfully listed synonyms, including international names or slang, of various romantic words (or certain body parts). So helpful!! Maybe I’ll dig it up – I’m pretty sure I emailed it to myself. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s hard to proofread your own work. It wasn’t until a month after I published my novel that I realized I called the Boston Red Sox the REX Sox. Oops.

      Hey, let me know if you find that blog post. I’d really like to know a few different ways to say “breasts” in Arabic. Asking for a friend.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. … or use the passive voice (omg)… Ha ha! I laughed at that. I get that you shouldn’t overuse the passive voice, but some people are SO anti-passive voice. I actually think it has a place in writing, not just when active voice sounds wrong/clunky. Does that make me a heretic? (Or should I say: Am I made a heretic by that? Ha ha!)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mark, it’s so funny that you posted about the thesaurus because I always had one on my book shelf up until about two years ago when I was planning to move to NYC and was getting rid of things for the move. Like you, I rely on it so often; especially when posting on my blog because I try not to be redundant in using the same words. Now, and also like you, instead of using a book, I go online and use various websites that will offer synonyms.

    So, long live the THESAURUS!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny, as often as I use a thesaurus, I rarely use a dictionary (except when people on my blog leave comments with words like “Sesquipedalian,” of course!). Hmm…does that make me a know-it-all?

      Enjoy the rest of your week!


  6. I love/adore/cherish my thesaurus!! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I can’t help myself… here’s how I would edit that paragraph:

    If you’re looking to buy a house, don’t settle on the first one you see. And if you’ve looked at dozens but still haven’t found a home you like, don’t despair: your perfect abode is out there just waiting to be discovered.

    I love editing. Thanks for the opportunity. That was fun!

    P.S. Agree with you 100% on using the same word over and over. Annoying!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love it! I relied on my trusty Thesaurus so much in HS and college. I think I’ve used it a few times while blogging, but I read so much that I can usually come up with an alternative off the top of my head. It’s not like my blog is high brow/scholarly/elitist!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Anyone who’s anti-thesaurus probably thinks they’re a walking thesaurus, and anyone who isn’t is pond scum. Chances are they don’t know as much as they think they do, which would make them doubly intolerable insufferable.

    Liked by 1 person

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