Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Permission to Use a Thesaurus

I'm currently editing one of my novels, and I'm being picky, picky, picky with word choice. As someone once wisely said: "A word must earn its right to live on the page."

I couldn't agree more.

To that end, I occasionally use a thesaurus. And I still can't seem to shake the idea that it's a "crutch" that's frowned upon by good writers who don't "need" it. But I know that's not true. A thesaurus serves a specific purpose -- it spotlights a word that was already there, somewhere, floating around in my brain anyway. It's a tool, a device, and I think writers should use it boldly and proudly.

In fact, this past semester, I gave my students "permission" to use a thesaurus when they write. And half the class seemed grateful--as though perhaps they, too, had felt the same bit of ridiculous shame as I, when using one. Now sure, if a writer has to rely on a thesaurus for every other word, I do think it becomes a crutch. And, even more importantly, I think it squashes a writer's natural voice. Sometimes, a writer's initial instinct, his own personal wording, is the best wording of all. Because it is natural.

I do find myself using a thesaurus for those occasions where I'm repeating descriptions in a passage. When I need a new way to describe things like: "he smiled" or "she shrugged" or "she sipped her tea." If I'm constantly describing actions and using the same words, it becomes much too repetitive. That's where a thesaurus comes in handy.

Anyway, here, today, for anyone reading this entry, I hereby give you permission to use a thesaurus--proudly, and guilt-free. ;-)


  1. I must disagree with the notion of a thesaurus as a crutch. Surely no person can possess such a wide vocabulary as to always be ready with a new word or phrase. Perhaps I'm making excuses, for I quite often use the thesaurus for just such an occasion as you described, that is, to say the same thing without saying it again. Then again, perhaps I'm not as wordy as some.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

  2. Merry Christmas to you and yours!!