Craft of Writing: The Thesaurus, alas, not extinct
For purposes of this essay, the thesaurus is anthropomorphized into a large green dinosaur. One that should be extinct, and isn't.

Stephen King has famously said "Any word you have to find in a thesaurus is, by definition, the wrong word."

This has caused some controversy in writing circles. I can almost always tell when an author has been out playing fetch with their pet thesaurus. The words selected are somehow not quite right. I thought about this a long time, as I had a friend who was particularly fond of his beast, and I finally had to articulate why he was doing his writing a disservice.

The words you find in the thesaurus are not usually part of your workaday vocabulary. So they don't fit into your authorial voice. And you may not quite know what they mean.

My friend liked the word "quip." It had been given to him on a list by an English teacher with Fear of Said. He never quite understood that it meant a pithy or witty turn of phrase. He hated Said. I kept telling him it was mostly invisible when used properly, and that quipping, enunciating and thin-smiling everything was annoying to readers.

Thesauruses have their place. But one must understand how to use them. For instance, I have a green object. It's not turquoise and it's not emerald and it's not olive green. I need a good shade of green. This is where the thesaurus comes in: reminding you of words you already know but can't immediately think of.

Selecting longer, fancier synonyms for the word you planned to use, that shows like a cheap slip. And you end up sounding like all those memes.



When you try to write above your actual vocabulary level, it always shows. I have a 50000 word vocabulary, which includes things like defenestration, haslet, mendacity and antidisestablishmentarianism, but most of the words in this essay are small and simple. Keep it simple is almost always good advice.

Use the tools correctly, and you don't end up playing fetch with something that should be extinct