Me against the thesaurus

Speaking of linguistic snobbery, do you know what else I hate? I hate thesauri. I never use them; I consider them a blight on the English language.
Maybe that’s putting it a little harshly. But thesauri have always struck me as a lazy and misleading way to artificially boost one’s vocabulary; they let you fling words about carelessly without first proving that you understand their meanings and nuances. They give the false impression that two or more words can mean the exact same thing, when the reality is that every word has its own distinct shade of meaning–no matter how similar it might be to another word. You can’t just replace one word with another nearly-identical-in-meaning word and pretend that you haven’t subtly altered the meaning of your sentence. Thesauri let you use words before you’ve proven yourself worthy do to so.
My own wife–my own wife–just rolled her eyes at me when I stated this important fact. I know that you, dear readers, will understand, even if she doesn’t.

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6 thoughts on “Me against the thesaurus

  1. Ron Veenstra

    You, sir, are wrong. Wrong, amiss, askew, astray, at fault, awry, bad, bum, counterfactual, defective, erratic, erring, erroneous, fallacious, false, faulty, fluffed, goofed, in error, inaccurate, inexact, miscalculated, misconstrued, misfigured, misguided, mishandled, mistaken, not precise, not right, not working, off-target, out, perverse, rotten, sophistical, specious, spurious, ungrounded, unsatisfactory, unsound, unsubstantial, and untrue.

  2. topher

    Ron, that was brilliant.
    Andy, are there NO good uses for one? I enjoy reading them for the same reason that I read function lists for PHP, to find new and interesting bits of a language I use. I don’t remember the last time I thought “I’ll look up a BIGGER word, to make myself sound more impressive, august, grand, imposing, majestic, noble, splendid, superb, arresting, notable, or striking”.
    I just read it.

  3. jtr

    I find a thesaurus useful when writing if a word I have chosen does not quite match the nuance or shade of meaning I intend and I cannot think of a better word. I then consult Mr. Roget and ask him for a list of similar words. This occasionally increases my vocabulary but most often it simply reminds me of or points out) a better word.

  4. jonathan

    I think thesauri have their uses, but can also be abused to the point which you decry, Andy. Generally, I use a thesaurus when I need (and can’t think of) a synonym for a word I’ve used in a previous sentence. Finding one, I usually cross-reference with a dictionary (or the dictionary in my head) to make certain I’m not sacrificing nuance for the sake of variety.
    In many similar ways, dictionaries (specifically bilingual dictionaries) can be abused as well. What’s the first thing a newbie language learner thinks of when being given the task of translating a sentence from English to target language (or vice-versa)? A dictionary! Thus, the English sentence “I want to walk to that store” can easily be translated into German as “Ich wollen zu Gang zu dass Vorrat.” Paying no attention to finer points of grammar and parts of speech, the abuser has created the sentence “I to want to Path to that (conjunction) supply.” Beautiful.
    An extreme example, perhaps, but I still hold that when used properly, a thesaurus is a good thing.

  5. jrau

    Heathens! Barbarians! People like you four are going to destroy the English language!
    I jest, of course, and I don’t actually hate thesauri that much. I was mostly railing against the careless use of thesauri (which Jonathan notes as well), which may be a problem that exists more in my mind than in reality. Good points all around.
    But I do like the view from my lofty linguistic tower, looking down at all you thesaurus-using peasants.

  6. KDC

    A better title would have been, “Me against Thesaurus.” Or perhaps, “The thesaurus against me,” since your word order makes it extremely unclear why you have used the objective case of “I”. Tsk, tsk… such casual use of grammar.

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