I found myself reaching for a thesaurus the other day.
Well, “reaching” is not the right word; I went to www.thesaurus.com, which was quicker than finding an actual thesaurus and had the benefit of not requiring me to stand up in the midst of my writing session. Then I went into a dumb thought-spiral, because of course I did, when I remembered a little nugget of writing advice that goes something like:
“Never use a twenty-five-cent word when a five-cent word will do.”
Did I butcher it? I may have butchered it.
I take that advice to heart. I almost never use a thesaurus. Reason being, I figure if a word isn’t in my immediate lexicon, odds are it’s not in the average reader’s lexicon either, and it’s no good busting out fancy words just for the sake of fancy words if only a tiny minority of readers are actually going to understand them on first read. (And sorry, for the most part I don’t hold truck with writing that has to be read multiple times for the meaning to sink in. I have things to do. And so do the rest of us.)
Anyway, there’s another writing quote I like a lot, which starts off something like “writing advice is bulls***.” This is true, inasmuch as for every bit of writing advice you can find out there (and you can find a lot, if you go looking), you can find countless examples of writers — and writing — that flat-out breaks those rules. Good writing, even! “No prologues?” Surprise: lots of books have them. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs?” You may be somewhat shocked to learn that even this meager sentence has multiple adverbs! “I before E except after C?” Who cares, that’s why God invented spell check.
So you can ignore most writing advice. Except that the second part of the second quote (“writing advice is bulls***) is that “bulls*** fertilizes.”
What’s this to do with my thesaurus? (Sorry, my thesaurus.com?)
Well, you *shouldn’t* replace a five-cent word with a twenty-five-cent word when the five-cent word will do. But thesauruses (thesauri, my English-teacher brain screams but I cannot make myself say aloud) don’t just have twenty-five-cent words in them. They have loads and loads of five-cent words. And sometimes you want to tear your hair out when you realize you’re using the same five-cent word too much.
Sometimes you have to reach for the nickel term. Probably you don’t want the quadrant morpheme.
Point is, it’s just another tool like any other tool. Use it where it’s useful. Circumlocute it when it’s dyslogistic.