Sunday, July 3, 2016

How to kill a Thesaurus-Rex

The thesaurus and Big Words!

The more I read, the more the editor in me comes out.  Instead of focusing on the story, I find myself catching erroranous words or silly misspellings.  Man, am I harsh!

The difference between pretentious and well-educated is the willingness to look something up!

A thesaurus is an excellent tool if you use it correctly.  It can save you from using the same word over and over and over (like this).  However, it can also be your demise.  Just because a word is a synonym in a thesaurus, doesn't mean that the word will work in your sentence or for your situation.  Always check the definition of your new word to make sure it fits before putting it in your manuscript. 

Example: I had a nice time at dinner.

“Nice” in thesaurus lists the following synonyms: cordial, ducky, fair, friendly, good, kind, lovely, okay, superior, swell, welcoming, winning

Changing out the word nice with a synonym could completely change the meaning of your sentence.  If you don’t want to change the meaning of your sentence, you have to be careful which word you chose. 

I had a good time at dinner, would have the same meaning without using the word “nice”.  I had a “fair” time at dinner would portray to the reader that you didn’t have as nice of time as you wanted to have.  I had a “swell” time at dinner might tell your reader that the dinner took place in the 1950’s.  While, I had a “superior” time at dinner might tell the reader you had a better time than you really did.  Be careful of slang terms and pop culture references too.  Saying I had a “winning” time at dinner may leave a different picture in your reader’s mind.

Now obviously, this was an easy example, but what if it was harder words that you didn’t know the definitions for, or wasn’t quite sure?  Example, inconceivable.  The first synonym listed on for inconceivable is extraordinary.  Are these two words completely interchangeable?  NO!  In the correct sentence, yes, it could work.  In the wrong sentence, disaster. 
Double checking definitions is essential.  If you still aren’t sure if the words “fits” your sentence, try reading the sentence aloud.  Try reading the whole paragraph aloud.  Does it still sound good to you?  Sometimes things sound good in your head but not so good to your ears.  Have someone else read it to you.  Do you still like the word?  Then it’s a keeper!

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