Celebrating the Thesaurus on National Thesaurus Day
Did you know that January 18th was National Thesaurus Day? Although the day is now behind us, it doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate the holiday and the thesaurus all year long! We often overlook the expansive book for its better known cousin, the dictionary, but a thesaurus definitely deserves a place on everyone’s shelves. Join us for a look at the history behind the book and how you can use it in your work and daily life.
What is a Thesaurus?
A thesaurus is defined as “a book of words or of information about a particular field or set of concepts especially: a book of words and their synonyms.”
If a word you’re thinking of just isn’t working in your copy, letter, or other writing material, you can use this resource to uncover similar words. A thesaurus can be used to expand vocabulary and to help you move away from overused words. Moreover, it is regularly updated to incorporate contemporary terms and definitions.
The History of the Thesaurus
National Thesaurus Day falls on January 18th, but this date isn’t randomly chosen—it is, in fact, the birth date of the creator of the thesaurus: Peter Mark Roget. Born on January 18th, 1779, he became known for his creation of the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas or Assist in Literary Composition, or just Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases for short in 1852.
Today it is better known as Roget’s Thesaurus. Roget began working on the book in 1846, six years after retirement from a medical career. It is said that the project began out of depression and he had an obsession with list-making by the age of eight. A smaller scale version of the book was actually completed in 1805.
Roget’s original thesaurus would go on to be revised and edited by his son and grandson. Although the original version had only 15,000 words, the latest edition contains 443,000.
How to Use a Thesaurus in Your Everyday Life
Whether you use a published edition or an online version, there is no doubt a thesaurus can be extremely helpful in your day-to-day life, both at work and at home. If you sometimes struggle to find that perfect word or properly convey a meaning, this resource can absolutely come in handy. Here are two tips you may want to remember to get the most out of your thesaurus and use it to become a better writer.
Tip #1: Mix it Up
Do you find you’re using the same words over and over again in your copy to describe a fact, place, or problem? Using the same words repeatedly can actually bore your reader (or listener) and sound like droning. It’s a good idea to consider synonyms for those repetitive words.
For example, if you’re describing “energy,” you may want to instead opt for “power.” For wind, you can choose from “breeze,” “air current,” “gale,” “draft,” “blow,” or other words. For the word “problem,” writers can instead use “difficulty,” “issue,” “trouble,” “mess,” “worry,” or “complication.”
Tip #2: Make Sure You’re Using the Right Synonym
Although the thesaurus can list several options for any particular word, it doesn’t mean it’s the right synonym for the job. For example “bro” is listed as a synonym for “brother,” but if you’re writing something for a professional business, “bro” may not be the best option: “sibling” would work better instead.\
Another example of this common error would actually be going back to “energy.” Energy can be used to describe electrical energy as well as an individual’s energy. You don’t want to just choose the first synonym you see in the book, or you could very well be writing about animation, vigor, or enthusiasm rather than power. You need to ensure you’re choosing the right word before plugging it into your writing by thinking about meaning as well as nuance.
This is especially important to note when you’re using the thesaurus tools on Microsoft Word or similar programs. You can highlight and right click a word to bring up synonyms, but if you don’t double check which word you’re using, you could easily choose the incorrect one and confuse the meaning of your writing.
Never underestimate the power of a good synonym! It can help you keep your reader interested and give new depth to your writing. Make sure you take time this year to get good use out of your thesaurus, whether that’s a copy you keep on your desk or an app, to celebrate the book all year round.
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