Using the Thesaurus: The Virtuous, The Debauched, and the Uncouth

It might be the best thing to happen to those with a limited vocabulary, but it can also prove to be disastrous when trying to get your point across. is one of my favourite websites, so much so that it is a bookmark on my homepage. I have the thesaurus app on my phone, and I love using the Synonyms function on Word. I am not a writer by trade, so the thesaurus helps me use the word ‘modifying’ when all my brain can muster up is ‘changing’, or using ‘mesmerising’ when ‘pretty’ just doesn’t convey how good my selfie game was.

While the thesaurus can be a lifesaver when I have used the same describing word four times in the last paragraph, it can also overly complicate a perfectly good email or document, making it a strenuous task for the reader.

An excellent example of this is from an episode of the television show Friends, when Joey is asked to write a recommendation letter for Monica and Chandler’s adoption agency. Intelligence not being a strong suit for Joey, he enlists the help of a thesaurus in the hope of making the letter sound clever.

‘It’s smart,’ Joey explains, ‘I used a thesaurus!’
‘On every word?’ Chandler asks, perplexed.
With a smug smile Joey replies, ‘Yep!’

While he thought he was doing the couple a favour by relying on the thesaurus, the entire thing backfired when the recommendation letter ended up resembling an unrecognisable grammatical nightmare. Joey’s original heartfelt line, ‘They’re warm, nice people with big hearts’ became ‘they’re humid, pre-possessing homosapiens with full-sized aortic pumps’ thanks to the thesaurus’ synonymous replacements.

So while the thesaurus, the lesser-known cousin of the dictionary, can be a great tool in finding the perfect word to help get your point across, sometimes keeping your message simple is the best way to ensure your audience can understand you.

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