The One With The Thesaurus

Often times, students try to elevate their language by using a thesaurus or the synonymous feature on Microsoft Word. Instead of using the word big , a student might use the synonyms tab and replace the ‘boring’ word with a much more ‘educated’ word like enormous. However, because many writers do not necessarily know how to use a thesaurus properly, their writing ultimately suffers.

For example, the sentence “My second grade teacher had a big nose, glasses, and red hair” soon becomes, “My subsequent  grade educationalist owned an immense nasal cavity, optical instruments, and flushed fur”. While this is an extreme example, it is common for students to fall into this thesaurus trap.

Joey Tribbiani, the dimwitted, smooth-talking ladies’ man  from the comedy series Friends, has run into the very same problem many writers do when trying to to write for a more formal audience. Lets take a look!

Courtesy of WarnerJordan Education, YouTube.

As Joey demonstrates, not all synonyms can be used interchangeably in all contexts. It is important to choose wisely from the suggestions provided by a thesaurus when incorporating them into your writing. Blindly choosing words can disrupt comprehension and  fluidity.

My advice?

  1. Don’t shy away from small, familiar words. These  small boring words can carry great  weight and can aid with clarity. Often times, big words can be overwhelming and can cloud the meaning of the sentence. Writing becomes  much more effective if a conscious effort is made to ensure word choice does not disrupt clarity.
  2. Have confidence in the type of language you use in your academic writing. A writer’s particular word choice constitutes a large portion of their identity as a writer because it helps to shape their overall tone and style. All writers have a natural voice, and it is important that unnatural language is not forced.
  3. Only use the words you have a genuine, clear and concrete understanding of. The words indicated by the thesaurus, while similar in nature, don’t always have the same connotation or meaning as the targeted word. if a writer blindly chooses a word indicated by a thesaurus, their sentence could possibly take on a whole new, unintended, meaning.

So, feel free to use a thesaurus, but double check that you’re using it wisely. Do you have any thesaurus blunders stories to share? Tell us in the comments below!