Creatively Thinking: Don’t be afraid of the thesaurus

I think a lot of writers are afraid of using a thesaurus.

Or maybe it was just me avoiding thesauruses all those years because I thought I should have all the words in the universe in my head already somehow.

It wasn’t only my pride keeping me from using one. I also avoided thesauruses because one of the biggest lessons we learned in journalism 101 was K.I.S.S.

No, our professors were not trying to be inappropriate.

It’s an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid.

What that means, obviously, is to write what you mean and don’t add extra words.

Or don’t keep adding a sentence to over-explain what you’ve already explained.

Or don’t use large words to further elucidate your thoughts.

There is no need to keep illuminating your opinion by adding words that are completely supererogatory or superfluous.

So, yeah.

I think you get the intellection I was going for. *wink*

And you can also tell I used the thesaurus for this blog post.

Using a thesaurus can help enhance your writing but it can also make you sound like a pretentious snob, so my advice is to use the thesaurus with care ( or, in other words, caution, guardedness, prudence, or circumspection.)

Using it too much can also completely muddy what point you hoped to get across in the first place.

I don’t use a thesaurus all the time, mainly because I can’t spell the word thesaurus, but also because I try to keep to my old college class acronym in the back of my mind at all times while I writing, even when I’m writing fiction.

Actually, I don’t think there is a need to complicate sentences with voluminous words in fiction at all.

This will go against the KISS rule here a bit, (by adding more than I need to to this post) but after Googling the term and how it relates to writing, I discovered the term was actually used first as a design principle by the US Navy in 1960. According to the not-always-correct Wikapedia.com: “The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.”

Other phrases associated with the acronym, which could also work for writing, include “Keep It Short and Simple”, “Keep it Simple and Straightforward”, “Keep It Small and Simple,” or even “Keep It Stupid Simple.”

So, the bottom line is that why you are keeping it simple, don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit with your language so you can avoid redundancy in your prose. B

ut at the same time, don’t go too crazy with that thesaurus, okay?

 

 

Written by Lisa R. Howeler

As a writer, photographer and former journalist, Lisa R. Howeler writes a little bit about everything on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She self-published her first novel, A Story to Tell, in September 2019 on Amazon. She's a wife and a mother and enjoys a good John Wayne movie and a cozy Jan Karon book. She's also a freelance writer and photographer who is a contributor to various stock agencies, including Lightstock and Alamy. Her photography work focuses on documentary and photojournalism.

23 comments

  1. I sat through a basic writing class recently. A woman read her essay. She’d said the same thing over and over about four times, but with synonyms. The class was enraptured and impressed; I felt like I’d driven through a suburb, watching the same strip mall zip by four times.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the reasons I began writing in retirement was because I was struggling more and more to find the words I knew were in there somewhere (that is, in that pea soup that my memory has become).
    I love logic puzzles, like sudoku and codewords, but the language side of my brain has been under-achieving memory-wise since well before retirement.
    When writing, I use online thesauruses more often than I like, but they are so much easier to use than the old Roget’s Thesaurus that sits unused on my bookshelf. And sometimes it’s reassuring to find that the word I’m looking for to express exactly what I want to say (in the way I want to say it) doesn’t exist after all.

    As a strategy to improve my word-searching capabilities, is it working?
    It’s a slow process… but I do believe it is.

    Like

  3. I think I need to get out our Thesaurus a little more often, because I hear myself saying the word, “beautiful” way too often! I sound like a broken record some days. But when something is beautiful, it just is! 🙂 Thank you for this great post today, Lisa!

    Like

  4. Lol. When I started writing, I wanted to sound writerly. I had the impression that literary fiction was the best, but ironically, I hate reading it. I’m naturally in love with big words and sometimes I have to use a thesaurus to tone down my big grammar. lol. I’ve had people say I use a lot of big words, but I’ve not been able to differentiate if that’s a criticism or compliment.

    But I use the emotion thesaurus almost all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like when people use big words. I’ve been told I use big words but I don’t think I do (other than looking up a lot of the words in this post to joke about it.) so maybe it’s all subjective based on each person’s vocabulary reach? I don’t know.

      Like

      1. I knew it was a empty threat most of the time, but it was still a little scary. My mom only smacked me on the bottom a couple of times when I was younger and the last time she cried so I knew she wouldn’t punish that way. Mainly just taking things away, which stunk too. I always thought it might be a Southern term, but not sure. I think it’s just because she reads a lot and picked it up from that. Either way, I sometimes had to snicker a little when she said it (away from her, of course.)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I use thesauruses occasionally! Most often because I have a word on the tip of my tongue but it’s eluding me! (But usually, if I don’t know the word, it’s safest to stick to words I know well as to use them in the right context!) I so agree with the teaching you got, keep it simple!!! I find myself often scanning through posts and skipping huge chunks because they are too wordy and repetitive! You gave me a good laugh while getting the point across. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I use the thesaurus because I have perimenopause and thyroid brain at times! So I am like you where the word is there but I just can’t get it to come to me! Drives me nuts! Lol.

      I skip huge chunks of books when they are too wordy too. I think that we writers often think we have to sound smarter than we are – while some writers are actually that smart and that is why I hate them 😜😉

      This will sound bad but I unfollowed a blogger because she made every post sound like a literary story with big words and huge metaphors and —- I was just like “you just went to the supermarket! Is all this necessary?!”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the thesaurus, but I agree that some of the best writing is the most streamlined. Although I do have Roget’s Thesaurus for Writers on my amazon wish list:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh. I might get that too. Learning and using bigger words is so much fun 😀I wish I was like my husband who actually knows all the big words and has a thesaurus in his head. It’s always fun having a conversation and having to sneak off to look up a word he just said so I don’t feel stupid. Or I just tell him to knock it off and speak like a real person! 😂😂

      Liked by 1 person

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