Thesauruses. (or is it Thesauri? Both sound wrong. Too bad there’s not another word for those things, hearty guffaw!) Some authors consider them a vital tool in their writing toolbox, a necessary weapon in their literary stockpile, an essential instrument in their authorship accessory kit.
So to speak.
Others, even those of the prolific and popular variety, scorn them.
While I’ll admit that I likely rely/depend/count/bank-on synonyms far too often when writing, and defer to King’s point that having to run to a dictionary or thesaurus every time you want for a word — or a DIFFERENT word — stifles the creative process, I have found another danger altogether with the thesaurus, especially as they are generally only a click away these days. (For instance, while writing this, I am using a service called Grammarly. Double-click a word, and a list of available synonyms pops right up for the choosing/selecting/picking/taking.)
If not used carefully, a thesaurus can subtly or not-so-subtly add a meaning or connotation to your writing that you never planned, and if carried too many levels down, can be utterly devastating to the original intention. I present herein some actual examples, where words in simple, everyday sentences have been replaced with synonyms. Be advised/warned/informed/apprised.
Sometimes, a lovely gesture of familial recreation:
I took my family to the beach.
can become a little too formal, grandiose even, and can wind up curiously disconcerting:
I conveyed my people to the shore.
And if taken too far, the final product can denote a change in financial fortune:
I delivered my house to the bank.
Suddenly, a day at the beach turns into a fiscal nightmare! Unless you are in fact intending to relay the experience of a foreclosure, you have somehow worked your way down the chain of synonym replacement and ended up far from where you intended.
Sometimes, a simple, common domestic request:
Have you seen my shoes?
can, with a few careless clicks, make one sound like they carry a strange pride in how they are shod, and want others to know:
Have you observed my footwear?
I do say, dear chap, gaze upon these!
And Sometimes, just changing one word can completely change the course of a life:
The Doctor said I’ll be fine in no time!
The Doctor said I’ll be little in a jiffy!
I have nothing against being of little stature, and if the Doc is additionally saying that I will at any moment return to my younger self, then that cannot be all bad, as I had a wonderful childhood! Still, it is far from what was originally intended, and changes the story line significantly.
If one is not careful, a compliment:
My wife is a patient driver.
Might turn into something a tad chauvinistic:
My lady is a reliable chauffeur.
And may quickly escalate into an overt crisis situation where sleeping on the couch is the least of your worries:
My woman is a solid servant.
The turn of events here is dire. I’ll leave this one without further comment.
It should be noted that not all cases of this slippery synonym slope are patently negative. For instance, a good thing in one’s domestic life:
I consider myself a good father!
Might morph into a statement that is quite beneficial when relayed during a job interview:
I reckon myself a natural administrator!
And if taken further may even open up the possibility of a career in nautical or aeronautical navigation:
I judge myself a regular captain!
You start out being a good dad and suddenly you’re piloting a boat or a plane. And you consider it all pretty typical – nothing to see here!
Until next time, word-replace with care!