It’s Monday and we are back with yet another interesting question from one of our readers :
How do I improve my language? I know of many writers who use the thesaurus to use better language. Is that a good idea? How would you advise me?- Mohan
Using a thesaurus is a very good idea.
However, there are a few points to keep in mind before you open your thesaurus.
English is very different from Indian languages. In Indian languages, one thing has many names. For example, in Hindi, the lotus flower has many names- Kamal, Neeraj, Jalaj, Padam, Pankaj, Kanwal etc. They refer to the exact same flower. That is not true of English.
In English, no two words refer to the same thing. The synonyms in English are words which are similar in meaning, but are never identical. No matter how close their connotation, they retain a subtle difference. Even words which have long been considered interchangeable are not really so. Do be careful of this when you decide to use the thesaurus.
Secondly, the stage of your writing at which you pull out your thesaurus, is also significant. Too often, the thesaurus is referred to after your post/ article/ story has already been written. You are polishing up the piece and are determined to up the language mellifluous quotient. You want to use better sounding, more complicated words.
Replacing a few words because the words you have used don’t sound right, or are being repeated too often, is one thing. Indiscriminately changing words with their loftier sounding synonyms- words you aren’t familiar with because you have never come across them before- is a sure recipe for disaster. You will probably end up using an inappropriate word and the insertion would not only look contrived but stand out like a sore thumb.
Some of your readers may not bother beyond feeling a vague annoyance. Some might even be impressed. But there will be some who would be positively peeved. Once a reader gets peeved, that’s the beginning of the end of your relationship with them.
In addition to the reader’s less than desirable response, you will have ended up saying what you never meant at all- and that would be sad! You have vibrant experiences to share. Why should you show only a pale imitation of your treasures?
By all means use the thesaurus extensively- in fact you should. That is why it was so kind of Microsoft to include a thesaurus with their word-processor. You need do nothing but click on a word and invoke the thesaurus with a couple of clicks. You’ll have all your choices laid out for you.
Use the thesaurus to pick a word whose correct usage you know, one which fits the context. When the list of options is displayed, let it serve to remind you of words you already know. Do not use a word you are not familiar with- unless you research its meaning thoroughly first.
The best way to understand the meaning of a word without ambiguity is to come across it when you are reading another writer. The contextual usage would give you a fuller meaning than can be garnered from a dictionary definition. To expand your vocabulary then, read extensively. Referring to the thesaurus, picking up and using unfamiliar words, wouldn’t help you with your vocabulary building.
How often do you use the thesaurus when writing? Do share!
This week’s question has been answered by one of our core team members, Ms. Dagny Sol who is a passionate bibliophile. Her love for the written word is deep and enduring. She firmly believes that when words come together to fashion a book, magic happens. To be invited to become a part of that process, is a privilege. The combination of language skills and passion for words, help make her an efficient editor.
Do feel free to send us your questions either by email or you can leave a comment here for us to cover it in the next Monday Microscope.