Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (11 Using a Thesaurus)

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Using a Thesaurus

When you were in grammar school, you were taught the terms antonym and synonym. An antonym is a word that means the opposite of another word: love/hate, hot/cold, spring/fall, light/dark. Synonyms are words meaning the same thing (or nearly the same thing): light/bright, traitor/Benedict Arnold, flat/horizontal, soft/cushiony. A thesaurus is a book which lists synonyms for many words and can come in very handy for a writer. The first one you were exposed to was probably Roget’s Thesaurus. The one I like to use is the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. If you don’t want to use a book, there are online thesauri, such as http://www.thesaurus.com and http://freethesaurus.net/. Microsoft Word has a built-in thesaurus. You can find it by right clicking on any word and going to Synonyms, and from there to Thesaurus.

So why is a thesaurus important to writers? The appropriate use of a thesaurus can make your writing fresh, unique, and meaningful. The inappropriate use of thesaurus can make you look pompous, arrogant, and make your writing unintelligible. What do I mean? Let’s repeat that second sentence:

  • The apposite application of a proper lexicon can formulate your literature innovative, exclusive, and profound.

Huh? Did she say the same thing as before?”

Well, kind of. That’s an obvious example of pompous, arrogant, and unintelligible, and since I simply replaced words, it doesn’t even make sense. Do you want your writing to sound like that? No, probably not. Not even if you were writing a scientific paper.

But let’s consider the appropriate use of a thesaurus. In your writing—somewhere in there—somebody almost certainly walks. Perhaps they do a lot of walking. Perhaps many characters do a lot of walking, and so the word “walk” becomes somewhat redundant. Even if it doesn’t does everybody always walk? “Walk” is bland, weak, and listless. Let’s consider some alternatives from MS Word’s thesaurus:

walk tread stride stroll saunter march amble hike promenade toddle stagger perambulate ramble meander wander dawdle mosey roam rove travel journey tramp trudge slog plod lumber scramble journey shuffle hobble shamble waddle trundle limp

Can you visualize the subtle differences between all these different verbs? How would they sound and what kind of description would they indicate in your book?

  • Harold walked to the store.

    • Yawn!

  • Harold rambled to the store.

    • Harold seems to be an aimless, casual sort of person.

  • Harold lumbered to the store.

    • Harold is apparently large and doesn’t move easily.

  • Harold trudged to the store.

    • This isn’t a good day for Harold.

  • Harold dawdled to the store.

    • Harold may be avoiding somebody in the store.

  • Harold journeyed to the store.

    • This store seems to be quite far away from Harold’s original location.

So if you’re finding weak, bland, listless verbs and nouns in your writing, haul out the thesaurus and spice up your writing! But don’t go overboard into pompous and unintelligible.

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!

Susan

Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing

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9 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (11 Using a Thesaurus)

  1. I’m constantly compiling lists of verbs that can be used instead of the dreaded combination of verb plus adverb! :) I keep these in a file that’s always open whenever I write.

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