For my first post of 2015, I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to Thesaurus.com for junking up their site. I had gotten lazy, and it was their excessive trashiness that snapped me out of it.
In high school, I was the nerd who wrote stories in notebooks all the time and carried a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus in my purse. I wore it out, in fact. (The thesaurus, not my purse, although come to think of it, I probably wore out both.) My parents gave me a newer, bigger Roget’s as a graduation present – 1,318 pages of word lists! I carried this one to college and later kept it on a shelf near my desk in my own classroom. My students called it The Big One and borrowed it whenever their dinky student thesauruses weren’t up to the task. (Student thesauruses are designed to help kids replace ordinary words with interesting ones, and my vocabulary assignments required them to look up advanced words and learn their meaning through synonyms and associated words. The words they needed to look up often weren’t listed in their thesauruses.)
I had to teach my students to how to find their word in the back, choose the correct shade of meaning, then look up the accompanying reference number in the front. “Wow, that’s complicated!” they said.
But in my own writing at home, I’d gotten lazy. True, The Big One had gone to live in my classroom, but I never made an effort to acquire another one. I looked my synonyms up on Thesaurus.com because it was easy and only required me to shift to another tab on my computer screen while writing. Of course, lots of times I left the site frustrated because I hadn’t found the right word.
Then Thesaurus.com added really obnoxious stuff to their site. Flashing ads. Pop-up boxes. They changed their format and highlighted the synonyms in color, as if that would help. I got even lazier and started Googling for synonyms … which produced less options and more frustration.
Last spring, as many of you know, I retired from teaching. The Roget Thesaurus came home to live on my own bookshelf – although not in the room where I usually write. A week or so ago, frustrated because I couldn’t find a synonym that would make a broken sentence work, I heaved a sigh and finally got off my butt. I walked away from the computer, all the way into the next room, and opened Roget’s. I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t used this thesaurus for my own work in years.
But as soon as I opened it, I realized why Thesaurus.com or Google did not in any way replace The Big One. Just look:
Words! Related words! Concepts! Associated concepts! How could I possibly have overlooked the very lesson I tried to teach my students about the association of words? The reason I couldn’t find a good synonym was that I was expressing my idea in entirely the wrong way. I thought I wanted to say one thing, but the concept in my head required a different set of associated words. Not synonyms.
All those lists forced me to THINK about what I wanted to say. No wonder I use to carry this thing in my purse. It’s pure brain food.
So that’s why my New Year’s Resolution for 2015 is this: No apps, websites, or Google searches shall come before Roget’s.