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Do You Use The Thesaurus to Find New Words or Remind You of Forgotten Words? (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
I find this an interesting question. When I use the thesaurus, I don't use it to find words I've never used before, I use it to remind me of words I just couldn't remember off the top of my head. You know ... those words on the tip of your tongue that you just can't find in the vaults of your creative memory.

That's not to say there's anything wrong with finding new words you didn't know and using them. I haven't done that yet on this forum or in any of my stories I've submitted here, but I have definitely done it in the past. In which case, the first thing I'd do is check it in the dictionary and then check its use in Fowlers. Those commas and semicolons separating words in most thesauruses are there for a reason. And even words separated by commas are not always perfect synonyms. Lots of words come with baggage.

You can often spot the thesaurus popping up in people's writing. Those words that sit there oddly out of place, floating in an unmatched style. The reason I'm making this thread is because I wrote a sentence the other day and immediately laughed. I like it and may even leave it but I couldn't help thinking it looked like one of those thesaurus moments.

THIS IS JUST AN EXAMPLE, FOLKS. IT'S NOT HERE TO BE CRITIQUED! ;). This is about thesaurus use and how you use it:

It would continue for quite some time as it always had, usually culminating in Sarah offering elliptical phrases, non-sequiturs Arthur could never translate into what he considered cute ripostes.

So, do you use the thesaurus to find new words or remind you of forgotten words? I expect 'a bit of both' posts more often than not ... but 'in general'.:)

Hopefully that will focus the thread and stop it derailing ... whoops.
 
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druid12000

Senior Member
Funny you should ask!

I generally use Google to look up definitions, but I used it twice yesterday to check synonyms.

I definitely relate to having a word poised on the tip of the tongue, ready to make a swan dive onto the page (or screen in my case), but the bugger remains elusive. Go figure it's happening more as I get older :thumbl:
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Funny you should ask!

I generally use Google to look up definitions, but I used it twice yesterday to check synonyms.

I definitely relate to having a word poised on the tip of the tongue, ready to make a swan dive onto the page (or screen in my case), but the bugger remains elusive. Go figure it's happening more as I get older :thumbl:

This is what I use at the moment. https://www.wordhippo.com/

I think the only time I just use google is if I'm listening to an audiobook and a word pops up I've not heard before.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I find this an interesting question. When I use the thesaurus, I don't use it to find words I've never used before, I use it to remind me of words I just couldn't remember off the top of my head. So, do you use the thesaurus to find new words or remind you of forgotten words? I expect 'a bit of both' posts more often than not ... but 'in general'.

NOTE: Az, this is not particularly a reply to you, but my general treatise on the subject.

Both the reason given (misplaced word), and simply to look for a less drab word.

But probably what I most often use a Thesaurus for is when I see I've used a word twice in close proximity. If a replacement for one doesn't immediately come to mind, I look for an alternate in the Thesaurus, and then decide which is the best alternate and which place is best to use it.

I would recommend NEVER using a Thesaurus to produce a word the writer doesn't already know. If you're not familiar with using or reading a word, you can quite easily wind up using it awkwardly or even inappropriately. By all means learn such a word and get familiar with it and eventually use it ... just don't plop it down on first exposure. It's a mistake I see all too often with beginning writers ... overreaching with a word they obviously didn't understand and using it where it doesn't fit.

On the other hand, I never write to the lowest common denominator. I have an extensive vocabulary and I write with it. The reason I HAVE an extensive vocabulary is reading authors who came before me and did the same thing. The key is to use that vocabulary as appropriate. Olly Buckle writes about not replacing a 5 cent word with a 10 cent word, and he's right ... EXCEPT when the 10 cent word is legitimately the best word for the spot, or it best fits the character in dialogue or first person exposition.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
I never use the thesaurus to find a new word. That's a recipe for disaster.

I write with a physical thesaurus and dictionary at my desk. I avoid using electronic means to find definitions to limit myself.
 

bazz cargo

Retired Supervisor
I very rarely resort to a thesaurus. Only if I doubt my memory about the meaning of the word I want to use.
When I'm feeling a bit low I end up buying yet another dictionary. I have six. It is better than gambling. I have a lovely Collins Special edition that I read a page a day from.

I also have some foreign language dictionaries. In sci fi, Polish makes a great alien language.

ser owocowy
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Today I edited a chapter wherein the MC was breaking out of a prison camp. He had to scale the tower (one of four), dispatch the tower guard, and took fire from other towers, and fire at the other towers. I used 'tower' three times in that scene, and so used the thesaurus to remind me of other words and phrases I could use in its place.
 

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
If I use a thesaurus or dictionary, it would be to clarify a word meaning rather than find a new one. In poetry I can find this particularly helpful if I need a synonym with a different number of syllables or a better word that might assist with some internal rhyme. However, if the search turns up a suitable word I've never heard of, I prefer to write around it rather than use it.
I was once given a hard time for using a word that a reader hadn't heard of (but I had). That's different, because even though I try to tailor my work for the maximum number of people to understand, I'm not responsible for the depth of someone else's vocabulary.
 

Crooked Bird

Senior Member
Today I edited a chapter wherein the MC was breaking out of a prison camp. He had to scale the tower (one of four), dispatch the tower guard, and took fire from other towers, and fire at the other towers. I used 'tower' three times in that scene, and so used the thesaurus to remind me of other words and phrases I could use in its place.

Yeah, this is what I do. When I really can't use the word I've got, I check around to get reminded of something that would fit better, or an alternative. I do agree with everyone who's saying don't use an unfamiliar word--even if you know the definition you're liable to get the "feel" and connotations wrong.

I was once given a hard time for using a word that a reader hadn't heard of (but I had). That's different, because even though I try to tailor my work for the maximum number of people to understand, I'm not responsible for the depth of someone else's vocabulary.

Oh, I feel you. A line editor took me to task because he had to look up what an artesian well was and it took him out of the story. It was in the most important moment in the whole novel. I consulted a writer friend who got really mad on my behalf and said I wasn't responsible for his lack of education. To tell the truth, I get not knowing what an artesian well is, but what I mostly wondered was, why look it up? (Unless you're a line editor, ha.) It was not an actual well, it was a simile, and not one where technicalities were important, so why not just let it flow over you? Look it up later, if you must? (To tell the truth I wonder often whether I'm an outlier, or how many people are like me: I really just let things flow over me a lot, in reading. Maybe I should start a thread on it and ask, sometime!)

I left it in, and I'm glad I did.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
If I use a thesaurus or dictionary, it would be to clarify a word meaning rather than find a new one. In poetry I can find this particularly helpful if I need a synonym with a different number of syllables or a better word that might assist with some internal rhyme. However, if the search turns up a suitable word I've never heard of, I prefer to write around it rather than use it.
I was once given a hard time for using a word that a reader hadn't heard of (but I had). That's different, because even though I try to tailor my work for the maximum number of people to understand, I'm not responsible for the depth of someone else's vocabulary.

I once got accused of using 'big words' because I used 'banal'. As you say, you can't be responsible for the lack of depth in someone else's vocabulary. I do think though, if you're not careful and end up using several in a row, it can come across as a word salad, even if it makes perfect sense.

That's why I've now changed that example sentence from my own work. It made me laugh ... and that's not good. lol
 

Cephus

Senior Member
It rarely ever provides new words, I only really use it if I think I'm getting needlessly repetitive.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
If I use a thesaurus or dictionary, it would be to clarify a word meaning rather than find a new one. In poetry I can find this particularly helpful if I need a synonym with a different number of syllables or a better word that might assist with some internal rhyme. However, if the search turns up a suitable word I've never heard of, I prefer to write around it rather than use it.
I was once given a hard time for using a word that a reader hadn't heard of (but I had). That's different, because even though I try to tailor my work for the maximum number of people to understand, I'm not responsible for the depth of someone else's vocabulary.

A few decades ago I worked for an Italian company - and worked with most linguistically gifted person I've ever met. He was Egyptian, and was educated in universities throughout Europe - and was fluent in five languages. His Italian was so good that Italian nationals would bring their memos to him to proof read before sending them off to corporate. He once told me that the most common language on earth is BAD ENGLISH. English is spoken in almost every country, but usually very poorly.

IMO a trick to using and unfamiliar word is to surround it familiar language such that the reader can be understood in context. Still, as you say, we are not responsible for our readers lack of education.
 
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