Use a
Thesaurus
by
Richard
Walloch
Photo Sunlit Trees "Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule," writes Stephen King in All the Writing Advice You Need in 10 Minutes. (Actually, King's advice appears in The Writer twice. It can be found in an 2000 issue, and again in an 2005 issue.) Has Stephen King overstated his case?

A literature search of articles published in The Writer since 1986 discovered sixty-one features which used the word "thesaurus". The Writer has proven to be balanced in its treatment of the subject, with authors both advocating and warning against the use of the reference. Philip Martan agreed with King; he wrote that good storytellers discard their thesauri. On the other hand, Marilyn Taylor advised, “Get yourself a good thesaurus”; and Sarah Anne Johnson reported that Ayelet Waldman has “a good dictionary and an even better thesaurus”. In Adore Your Thesaurus, Arthur Plotnik reminded us that the “Oxford-educated … Winchester allowed the thesaurus might be used to jog the memory or solve a crossword, 'but one never, never relies on it to help with the making of good writing.'”

According to Phyllis A Humphrey, writers consist of “'story' people and 'word' people”. Story people have no use for a thesaurus. Television and movies cater to story people, and few big words are found on the big screen.

Word people love their thesauri; and a mature vocabulary does not diminish that love. Word people advise the purchase of a huge thesaurus and caution that only familiar words can be found in smaller products.

Irene Copeland Brenton correctly states that everyone has “at least one intriguing story to tell.” A person may try writing after a long career. A businessman who produced reports with bullet points and executive summaries, a researcher who learned to think brilliantly but write dull, a mechanic who habitually used shop talk, and an attorney who turned simple ideas into writs may need assistance to find the words to hold their reader's attention. They must search their vocabularies thoroughly, using their thesauri not for new words, but to illuminate old allies who have been neglected in dusty corners of their minds.

Winchester almost got it right. A thesaurus can “be used to jog the memory.” What he missed was that some memories need to be jogged more often than others.