There should be a new rule instituted in the literary world: don’t learn your vocabulary from a thesaurus. It almost always turns out badly.

Just ask any English teacher; they probably have several examples of cringe-worthy phrases hurriedly pulled out of a thesaurus during a test. Sure, the definition was mostly there, but the connotations, nuance, and maybe even the type of word was wrong.

And, as a result, the sentence was ruined.

You’ve probably seen this condition before. You know, when a writer uses a word they learnt out of a thesaurus in an attempt to impress their readers, be they teachers, managers, Facebook friends, or the local writers’ club.

And here’s some advice: that’s probably not the best way to write. Because, honestly, the conclusion is abominable. (And that’s an example of why you shouldn’t learn words from a thesaurus. It’s also an exaggeration, but since you actually need the real sentence, I meant to say, the results are awful. Now doesn’t that sound better?)

I’m not going to belabour this point too far. You’ve probably already met someone who’s a little too fond of their thesaurus. Of course, now, we come to two questions: where should you actually learn new words, and where does a thesaurus actually come into play?

This might not sound like a very attractive solution for many of us who don’t have much time, but let’s be honest here: the best way to learn new words, and learn them correctly, is to read them in context. Like from a book. Or an article. After all, repeated exposure to a word will allow one to learn not only the basic definition, but its many nuances and connotations. And of course, its two most important aspects: where it should be used, and where it shouldn’t. Because we can sure butcher language, but we certainly can’t carve it.

Now to the next question: where should you use a thesaurus?

Well, I would say a thesaurus works best at helping people recall words. Because honestly, while I probably know ten words related to bad, I can’t recite them all off the top of my head. But, with a thesaurus, I can certainly find them all. You’ve probably experienced it too, you know, when there’s a word that’s just on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t seem to remember it. A thesaurus is very useful in this case.

And here’s another word of advice to anyone trying to struggle through writing assignments, or maybe just writing in general: you can’t trick your readers. People will be able to tell if you’re just plucking words from a thesaurus. Good writing, after all, isn’t just about fancy words. Good writing is about weaving words together in such a way that it’s beautiful. And a word out of place is like a stain on a canvas. Sure, the composition of the stain might be significant: who knows, it might have gold dust in it, or maybe it’s Leonardo da Vinci’s spit, but guess what? A stain is a still a stain, no matter what it’s made of. In the same way, a “good” word, if placed badly, becomes, by definition, a bad word.

My main point, really, is this: don’t lose the forest for the trees, and certainly, please don’t lose your message for fancy words.


Posted by dyl8nkw0k

Blogger and editor at Writes about life, books, science fiction and fantasy, games, technology, and film.

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