The Importance of a Thesaurus

Over winter break I ventured out of my cave to join my family in a seven hour car ride to our origin state of Idaho- where my parents were born and raise- to gather in a single household with the rest of the Marshall side of the family for Christmas. Remarkably, the drive was not unpleasant, made bearable by the my little brothers noise-cancelling headphones and the fact that my parents actually have pretty good taste in music. The first hour or so flew by so swiftly I hardly noticed and I was just beginning to believe that maybe the rest of break would go just as smoothly when I picked up my backpack to retrieve my book. As I set the backpack on my lap, I couldn’t help but note how unusually light it felt on my legs. Dread trickled over me as I peered inside, already fully aware of what was missing. My mother nearly leaped from her seat as I bellowed out in agony.

I had forgotten my Thesaurus.

In my defense, my mother is not hard to scare, so I assure you my reaction was less dramatic (though, not by much)

In my defense it is not difficult to scare my mother, so I assure you my exclamation was less dramatic (though, not by much)

Turning to face me she asked what was wrong. But when I explained my tragedy to her, she merely blinked, puzzled.

“I’m sorry…?” She offered hesitantly. “Can you just use an online Thesaurus until you get home? Or I’m sure Aunt Jenifer will have one at her house.”

“Yes, but it’s not my Thesaurus!”

My father chuckled. “You’ll be fine.”

But I wouldn’t be…

For the rest of break, whenever I shared my distress with another relative, I experienced much the same response.

How was it that no one could comprehend my affliction? And not only would they disregard my melancholy, they would have the gull to propose I resort to another Thesaurus! As though I would even subscribe to such infidelity!

My Thesaurus was the only Thesaurus for me. Yes, I had been with others before it; pocket Thesauruses that boasted their easy portability as well as Library Thesauruses which I may have taken out for a one-night-essay or two. But none fit me quite as well as my Thesaurus. It’s sturdy, robust build. It’s kind, straight-forward organization. It’s truly extensive vocabulary. And I had even marked all of my favorite words with pink tabs. Then I marked the markers of my favorite, favorite words. My Thesaurus was truly mine.

You you're jealous of my mad photoshop skills

You know you’re jealous of my mad photoshop skills

I loved it with all my heart and I had left it behind, sorrowful and abandoned, on my bed in Olympia.

Guilt stricken, I waited out the rest of break until my Thesaurus was back in my arms.

I would like to wrap up this post with a word to my fellow writers; If you have yet to find your Thesaurus- a Thesaurus that you can rely on at every turn, that suites your every writing need, and that teaches you to love and respect words- I fear you may be unwittingly stunting yourself. The Thesaurus is the writer’s life force. It understands our language better than we do, reaching into the depths of vocabulary to pull the words from the tips of our tongues onto the page. As writer’s, our job is to communicate- to share the inner-workings of our minds with whoever will listen so as to bring inspiration or sorrow or madness or humor into their lives if only for but a minute. And how can we do so if we are not picky about the lexicon we use? For, as you flip through your Thesaurus, you will find that each and every word has its very own meaning that should not be forsaken for the sake of ease. I am in no way implying that I am a better or more experienced writer than the next aspiring author. However, I have found that my Thesaurus has not only broadened my vocabulary and helped me advance in skill, but also find a passion for words that I did not possess before that makes the act of writing both more enjoyable and gratifying. (As you may have been able to tell, I had a little bit too much fun with this post.) And I simply wish to share this delightful secret with you.

William Zinsser once wrote that you should never settle for the wrong word. “The Thesaurus is to the writer what a rhyming dictionary is to the songwriter- a reminder of all the choices- and you should use it with gratitude.” (On Writing Well Page 35)

4 thoughts on “The Importance of a Thesaurus

      • That depends on what I’m writing. There are certain styles I need for different stories, so I go to source material or similar books to look for info. Right now, I’m working on a Dickens meets Fairy Tale story, and so I turn to either Grimm or Dickens for refocusing my style.

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