Saturday, April 2, 2011

To Thesaurus Or Not To Thesaurus

~That Is The Question~


*I posted this quote/question on my Writer's Page this week from stand-up comedian, Steven Wright.  It's kind of cute, and made me think about how and why I use my thesaurus. 

~ ~ ~ ~ 

A very famous author has been quoted as saying: "Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.  There are no exceptions to this rule."  ~Stephen King~

And when I say very famous, I mean VERY famous.  Is there anyone who has not heard of him?

Many of his books have been turned into some of MY favorite movies! 
The Shawshank Redemption
The Shining

I'm sure most of you also remember The Green Mile, Firestarter, Dream Catcher and 1408.  All Stephen King stories turned into great movies.  And so many more, which proves he is a great story teller. And yet, I beg to differ with his opinion about the use of a thesaurus. 

What about finding alternative words when you've over-used a word or you just want to avoid using a cliché?  What if you just want the right effect and you know the word in your mind just won't do?

I use an online thesaurus called WordWeb that also utilizes the dictionary- so as not to accidentally throw a word into my work that is incorrect.  I am aware that some writers do that, and I am very careful to make sure I understand the definition of a (new) word before I use it.  Perhaps that is why King believes any "hunted" word would be wrong.  

Do you agree with Stephen King?       If not, which one do you use and why?

And, what do you think (believe, consider, imagine, suppose) Stephen King meant (had in mind, implied, intended, thought) when he made that comment (remark, input, statement, assertion) in the first place? 

I would LOVE  (enjoy, like, desire, want) to hear your thoughts on this!

~ ~ ~ ~

*The answer to Steven Wright's question: Thesaurus = word finder, word book, synonym-dictionary.  

Thanks for reading!


  1. Stephen who? Ha ha! Loved his audio version of On Writing. Listened to it for a month in the car (when driving, that is!). It's a must for anyone serious about brushing up on their writing skills. Not sure what he means in his statement, because I found 'discombobulated' in the thesaurus and it was perfect!

  2. Chris: I hear ya! Sometimes I find the BEST words...words I may have had somewhere in the far recess of my mind, but just could not remember! I love my thesaurus!

  3. My grandparents gave me a Roget's Thesaurus when I was 13. I still have it and it's the only one I've ever used. Like you said, Sis, the word I want is in my head... it means something like... but not quite... it's... I grab Roget's, look up the means-something-like word, and there! That's the word hiding behind all the other words in my head.

    Not sure what Mr. King was meaning exactly. But I do think one has to remember that synonyms are similar but not precisely equal. Each synonym has its own connotation. I remember one of my English teachers discouraging... no, forbidding the use of a thesaurus because students might pull out an unfamiliar word for rephrasing and not understand the word's implications.

    I must admit I do not use the thesaurus as often as I use the dictionary. I have favorite dictionaries and dictionaries I disdain... wait, let me look up that word to make sure it's what I mean... yes, disdain some I do - you know the ones: they use the word itself in the definition. Disdain: to look on something disdainfully. :P I love the Steven Wright quote, btw. :)

  4. Great post, Sharon! I completely agree! Also love the graphics. They add a wonderful visual dimension.

  5. The visuals on your blog posts are fantastic. I could learn a lot from you! As for my thesaurus use, I am trying not to depend so much on it. I find that the more I write, the less I need to use it. That said, sometimes I just cannot find the right word, or the word I am using needs to be a little more descriptive. comes to my rescue in those situations. I'm not sure if it is entirely possible for anyone to not use a thesaurus at least periodically.

  6. I had an uncle who used to read the dictionary for pleasure. Also, a thesaurus. He had cerebral palsy and found it very difficult to speak. But he read and read and read. He spoke to me about the PLEASURE of words. I find I agree with him. And I think a thesaurus is a gateway to that pleasure.

  7. Amy: Thanks for the comment, sis! The reason I love the thesaurus I use is because the definition of each word you type in is right there along with the synonyms-and then, if you are not quite sure about that synonyms definition you can click on it, and get that answer! It's very thorough.
    If anyone forbid me to use it, I'd go nuts!

    Terri: Thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

    Lisa: Thanks for your comments and complements! I really don't know what I'm doing yet with this blog, and I worry that I'm using too many photos! (guess not if you guys all like them! :)

  8. I'm very specific about my word choice because I feel ever word works toward setting the mood of the scene. So if the word I'm thinking of feels a little clunky, I'm absolutely pulling out the thesaurus. In fact, the link is in my bookmarks bar!

  9. Great post! I also am a Thesaurus advocate. In the vein of all things serendipitous, I too am working on a blog post about this very subject. Is it all right if I link to your post?

  10. Mallory: I also have my thesaurus linked on my desktop. I love that it's only a click away! Thanks for commenting! :)

    Mary Elizabeth: (I love using your whole name, as my MC is named Elizabeth!) hehe
    I'm so glad to see I am not alone in the thesaurus using world! Feel free to link to my post any time! And, thanks! :)

  11. I use, but that's because a thesaurus doesn't live in my head. Honestly, if I could think up the big fancy awesome words, I wouldn't use a thesaurus either.

    Point is, I'm not Stephen King, and I can't write 20,000 words in a day and come up with the awesome words right off the bat.

    I wonder what he thinks of the revision process . . .

  12. As a new writer I took his comments to mean that I shouldn't trip over my own feet trying to find the "perfect" word while I'm trying to write a story. That's what editing is for.

  13. Rhiannon: Good point about King! Thanks for the comments.

    Jeremy:I'm not sure if King meant it only for writing the story. I kind of took it to mean he didn't like the use of a thesaurus for the entire process, including the editing! And that is usually where I tend to use it the most!
    Thanks for the comment though, and for following! :)

  14. I read "On Writing" too, and really enjoyed it. I *did* take a different approach to some things than he did (although obviously his approach works really, really well!) I do use a thesaurus because frequently I'm looking for a word that's on the tip of my tongue. :)

  15. Elizabeth (Spann Craig)
    Although I have many books on writing, I actually do not own Stephen King's book.
    I so totally "get" that feeling of having a word on the tip of my tongue! I hate it when I know exactly how I want a sentence to come off, and yet, the word is just not coming to me!
    Thanks for commenting! :)


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