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MyNewtBoobs's avatar

How do YOU define a "thesaurus paper"?

Asked by MyNewtBoobs (19026points) September 13th, 2010

Just what are your criteria for calling a paper a thesaurus paper? How do you tell them apart from the papers written by those with larger or different vocabularies?

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11 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

First of all, I’ve never heard of a thesaurus paper. Is this something you are accused of having written?

My guess is that a thesaurus paper is one in which someone looks through the thesaurus to find synonyms that sound more erudite that the words one has thought of. Such papers are perfectly obvious because they sound awkward, and the synonyms generally stand out like a block of obsidian on a field of snow.

I have often heard this in other people’s speech. I think people try to do it because they believe that big words make them sound more educated and make their words more weighty. The problem is that half the time, they use the words incorrectly. It makes them sound foolish, not wise.

I suspect a “thesaurus paper” does the same thing. It’s funny, because if you express your ideas in words you understand well and are comfortable with, you’ll come across as smarter than you do trying to use fancy synonyms. Your ideas will be expressed more clearly, and that’s the whole point.

Good writing is not about big words. It better not be, or I’ll be in trouble. My writing, according to one writing analysis app, is quite simple. Grade school level. That bothered me at first, but then I thought that maybe I’m writing to be understood, not to show off,.

I’m sure I do use words other people don’t understand occasionally, but I only use them when I feel comfortable with them. Most of the time, these days, I know there’s a word out there for the idea I am trying to convey, but I just can’t remember it. Sometimes I’ll go to the thesaurus to try to find it. Sometimes I do find it. Other times I have to make do with the words I can remember.

I think my way works. Many people have written me privately to say that I write well, or that my ideas are interesting to them. I say this to illustrate that simple words work. The thesaurus should be used sparingly, and only when truly necessary.

Jeruba's avatar

I’ve never heard of it either. Can you shed a little light? Is it meant pejoratively?

ETpro's avatar

@papayalily Like @wundayatta I have never heard of a “thesaurus paper.” I am guessing that someone calling a paper that is suggesting that it’s apparent a thesaurus was used because the simpler synonym would have been a better word choice than the one inserted in sentence after sentence.

One should never use a thesaurus just to find big, fancy sounding words to replace simple ones. The thesaurus should be used to find the best word for what you are trying to express. Each word listed generally has a slightly different connotation. They aren’t just a list of perfectly equal replacement parts. So if you are using a thesaurus to write a better paper, and you look up a word and find some synonyms you aren’t familiar with, either don’t use them or use a dictionary to make sure the word fits your intended meaning.

The thesaurus can be a great tool for poetry or alliteration. But you have to know what the synonyms listed mean including their subtle connotations to make wise choices. If you don’t have time for that when writing a paper, just stick with words you are sure mean what you intend to say.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Jeruba Sorry. @wundayatta and @ETpro hit the nail on the head. It is meant as an insult.

ETpro's avatar

@papayalily Thanks for clarifying. I had already written my response when @Jeruba asked the obvious question. I’m glad I guessed correctly this time. As Alexander Pope noted, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” But fools get to some really interesting places angels never see. :-)

Jeruba's avatar

In that case—how you can tell is that the words don’t quite fit the context. They are off in the same sort of way that, let’s say, a person posing as a member of the opposite sex or a member of a different culture is apt to make mistakes that those who are born to it won’t make. If you’re good at it, the mistakes will be subtle; if you’re not, they’ll stand out like wearing diamonds with a T-shirt.

Moreover, fancy words are likely to be wedged into sentences whose level of complexity doesn’t match the vocabulary. People who can wield one can usually wield the other.

Pretense of any kind usually gives itself away.

zen_'s avatar

@ETpro Then, when stuck, they pray to God to send some angels to get them out.

@papayalily Why didn’t you ask them what they meant by it – and how to learn from this mistake?

Brian1946's avatar

One example of a thesaurus phrase would be “Arctic luminous Ionospheric solar particulate excitation” rather than “Northern Lights”.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@zen_ Oh, no it actually wasn’t a comment directed towards me. It just got me thinking.

ETpro's avatar

@Brian1946 Ha! You must have a way better thesaurus than mine. Thesaurus.com says:
Main Entry: Northern lights
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: colored lights in northern skies
Synonyms: Aurora Borealis, Aurora Polaris, aurora, merry dancers, polar lights

Now if you were talking about the Northern Lights, and wrote, “I went to Alaska in hopes of seeing the merry dancers for the first time.” I don’t think many people would draw the conclusion you meant the Northern Lights.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Brian1946 Petroleum transfer technician = gas station attendant :-)

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