Friday, January 24, 2014

Reader Friday: Hunting for the Right Word

"Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong
word. There are no exceptions to this rule." - Stephen King

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” - Mark Twain

Who's right? 

19 comments:

  1. I agree with Mark Twain. We all have a set vocabulary we draw from again and again. It's easy to keep selecting the same words, and sometimes it's not quite the right word. I head for the thesaurus if I need a joggle to help me build a mood or convey a different feeling. What I don't do is go hunting for the sake of being writerly. I've seen that -- and it's like the writer forgets the story, which is never good.

    (Hoping I don't double post. I clicked Publish, and it vanished!)

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  2. I think both are right. Ideally, a writer should be a reader first, expanding his vocabulary enough to command enough words to be creative with their use. I admit to cracking Roget's on occasion, but I seldom find anything worth more than a few points in Scrabble.

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  3. King's almost right. I don't use a thesaurus often, but there are time when the word I want is on the tip of my writing tongue--I know there's a word I like better, but it's not coming to mind--and the suggesitons can either give it to me, or change my thought direction so I do come up with the word I want.

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    1. I'll third it. Roget's should be used as a memory jogger not a substitute for imagination.

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    2. I'll fourth it. :) Sometimes we just need a different common word to add some texture or interest to the text.

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  4. First of all, what's another word for "Thesaurus"?

    Second of all, I do like the thesaurus on occasion. Not to get a "fancy" word, but one that sounds just right. Over all, I want a bright middle school student to be able to understand my text.

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    1. This touches on what is the key point for me . Whatever word one uses (regardless of its source), it is of no value, or negative value if the reader does not have familiarity and understanding of it.
      Seems to me Mr. Twain's statement is closer to the mark especially if one observes the JSB caution to remain within your readers' vocabulary.
      I'm an admitted Thesaurus user. I think it's great for my scruffy brain. (ever note how Roget's has few 'bad' or salacious entries? e.g. "jerk" does not include any reference to a person who is a jerk. Political correctness motivated?)

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  5. I don't use a thesaurus because it will naturally make my writing sound unnatural. If I can't come up with the right word, I usually change the sentence structure until I no longer need to find the right word.

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  6. To be contrary, I do like collecting odd words. The husband is a golf-nut so we watch the British Open. That is where I learned the word "fescue." As in:

    "Oh, how unfortunate for Faldo...he's chucked it into the fescue."

    But I won't be using it in a book anytime soon.

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    1. lol...now I have to go look it up...

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    2. Fescue is a great word...I've sown lots of it. :-)

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    3. Fescue - noun - the place where people line up to buy a Fez

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  7. Much as I hate to disagree with Mr. King, he's wrong. He must have said that before he turned 50.

    Trying to remember the right word, the only word that will work, doesn't always come easily and it irks me to the point where I can't go on until I figure out that particular word.

    Bless the right click.

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  8. I narrated a book a couple weeks ago in which the author apparently milked the thesaurus for all it was worth. I spent probably an extra 15-30 minutes for each hour of audio just looking up words I had no idea were even real words, and no idea how to say them in the right context in a sentence. And that was in addition to scores of Latin taxonomy names throughout the book. And it wasn't even a science book, it was a literary biography of life on a farm in western Washington.

    One thing to keep in mind when writing a book, if you intend to turn it into an audiobook, is that someone has to say those words and if it is too high-falootin' complicated they might just sprain their epiglottis.

    I still don't know what the plaint of the lepidoterist regarding Cynthia of the Thistles was all about

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  9. I think they are both right. I am giving Stephen King the benefit of the doubt and believing he meant a writer shouldn't try to look up a "smarter" or "bigger" word just to make the writer look smart. The reader doesn't care how smart the writer thinks he/she is.

    Mark Twain is also right. So many times we know exactly what we are trying to say, but can't find the right word to convey it. In such a case the Thesaurus is a life saver.

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  10. I comprehend that Stephen Sovereign in no way apperceives what he is articulating about. Mark Bifurcation, on the opposing appendage, comprehends the weightiness of an exceptional onomasticon of synonyms and antonyms.

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  11. I agree with PJ on several points. Many times a dictionary or thesaurus (much of it online) eliminates that frustration when the bon mot is on the tip of my tongue. Then again, sometimes I just put an X, knowing that eventually it will come to me.
    As for collecting words, I find strange words entering my vocabulary from books I read just for pleasure. A beta-reader recently caught me on scarpered. As an ex-scientist, I wanted to know where I came up with that. Turns out that Ian Rankin uses it all through his books, which I read when extensively (among others) when figuring out how I wanted to write mysteries. I guess tracking that down was sleuth work too.

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  12. I think they're both right, too. King makes the point not to go beyond your natural vocabulary. But in that range of vocab, you should strive to find the "right" word. I agree a thesaurus is good for jogging the memory. My favorite advice for using a thesaurus comes from, I think, Gary Provost: One should go to a thesaurus to catch up with old friends, not make new ones.

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