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Delma Luben

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Writer's Treasure House
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Last edited: Thursday, October 09, 2008
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Notes on the value of a thesaurus.





Delma Luben


Every working writer has access to a thesaurus, in book form or on line. Don't they? What writer would be without one?

Yet few fully utilize it. Do you? Do you realize what a treasure it is?

In Latin thesaurus means “treasure house.” In reality, this writer’s helper is much more than a word finder with synonyms and antonyms. It’s a wealth of possibilities for the right choice. Within its pages you’ll discover jewels that will dress up your writing with sparkle and magic-- acceptance written all over it.

Also, a serious search for the precise word to sting, soothe, arouse, convince… can start a landslide of thought.

As all writers are acutely aware, thoughts are things. But words are working witnesses--special conveyors of our thoughts to readers. We can’t afford to select them carelessly.

Each time I need a special word, capable of striking a blow, kindling a flame, sparking cooperation, opening a mind-- when an interesting word pregnant with a particular meaning is imperative-- I feel greatly indebted to the 19th century student of philosophy who conceived the idea of a thesaurus.

The original “book of names for same or similar objects” resulted from the false imprisonment of a young Swiss intellectual named Peter Mark Roget. As a hobby Roget made lists of words that were related; and to sharpen his perception of ideas attempted to divide thought into categories. During his year in confinement, the hobby becoming full time, he succeeded in preparing a repertory of myriad different groups of related words. And when released, he continued adding to his collection. Finally, in 1852, “A Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases” was published.

That first edition, meant for philosophers, immediately became popular among writers-- emerging as an essential tool. Soon the word thesaurus became synonymous with word finder--the name Roget, with all future editions. Subsequent editions, beginning with one by his son, multiplied into dozens of versions, revisions, and improvisations-- all “to help you find the word you want, or have been unable to think of.”


This turned out to be an understatement (like clothes cover the body). Clothes also keep you warm, advertise your vocation, make fashion statements, and camouflage figure imperfections, among other things. A thesaurus supplies new words, forgotten words, better words, as well as the magic word that is just right.

This ever-ready word supplier can raise your writing from ho hum to interesting, to fascinating. Use it every day to improve clarity and correctly impress your reader-- especially that most important first reader-- an acquisitions editor.

If sometimes you think that editors don’t understand your intent, consider the possibility that you didn’t make it clear… Sometimes it’s only for lack of better wording that we miss an opportunity. Writers always want to know the reason a manuscript is rejected. We need to know. But, I’m sorry to say, we are rarely told. Often it’s because editors don’t want to tell us; sometimes they simply don’t bother; and many times they just don’t know.

When an editor has trouble identifying a reason for rejecting your piece, it could be a case of confusion, through misinterpretation.

Misunderstanding through misinterpretation is a universal problem. Just as people seeking peace must first understand each other; writers seeking to be published must first be understood.

If you aspire to literary success, you must be clear, concise, and appropriate-- but it is necessary also to insure that your meaning will be correctly interpreted. Take time to “dig” for that special gem cut to your exact intention-- the one word that will paint the right picture.

Develop the thesaurus habit.

Word choice, word magic, the right word every time (thesaurus fidelity) will boost your rate of acceptance. Guaranteed.

* * * * *

Excerpted from THE WRITING WORLD, Living The Literary Life, © 2003.




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