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D’ya think thesaurus?

10 March 2015

What do you call a one-eyed dinosaur? If it’s a mono-ocular Mesozoic reptile, we need to talk.

English is the greatest language in the world. Bafflingly simple, subtly diverse, built upon layers of meaning and intricate distinctions. As an official language in 80 countries, and unofficially spoken in loads more, you’d be right in calling it an unassailable supremacy of universal communication. Or you could just say it’s everywhere.

Part of the reason it is so great, of course, is because we’ve had so much help creating it. Centuries of Roman, Germanic, Viking and Norman visitors undeniably added character, but also mean we now have more silent letters, multiple meanings and spelling contradictions than we know how to get right.

And words. Loads of words.

So many words, in fact, that we now have at least 20 or 30 different ways of saying anything you can think of.

Thankfully for us, somebody wrote a thesaurus – a remarkably useful, interesting (and for a writer, potentially career-saving) reference to finding the right way of saying exactly what you mean.

But, like most good things in life, it’s open to abuse.

Thesauruses now, instead of being used for their intended purpose – to explore the nuances and subtle variance in meaning between words – are widely used to fill bad writing with elaborate and misplaced smart-arseity. When the writing gets tough, the thesaurus gets opened. Ideas dry up, so flashy and often ill-chosen language takes their place.

Victims of the thesaurus trap can usually be identified in one of two ways. Most obvious is the Russell Brand method, where long, complex or rarely-used words are levered into places they just don’t fit. Like when the missus is being a melancholy moo after nagging me to hoover, but I wouldn’t capitulate.

And then there’s the John Prescott technique of, when choosing an alternative word, getting the meaning completely confused. If you’re carting that old sofa down to the jettison (dump) or, in school, maths is your most hated guinea-pig (subject) then you’re clearly getting it wrong.

If you take it to extremes, misuse of a thesaurus will ruin your writing. Fun with mummy at the park will become gratification with materfamilias at the pleasure garden. Instead of making a nice house from your stack of impressive-looking bricks, you’ll just be left with a pile of pretentious crap.

If you’re not that person, we salute you. If you love language, and just want to expand your vocabulary and explore new ways of expressing yourself and your ideas, then don’t let us slow you down.

But here’s a tip: don’t let your language outshine your ideas. Complex thinking needs big words. Your Facebook page on how to apply lipstick doesn’t.

So, what should you be calling a one-eyed dinosaur? Or anything else you’ve been writing about? If you’re filling your work with unnecessary and inappropriate language then it probably won’t matter. Because it’s unlikely that anyone saw it.


Posted by Rob.

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Spoon Media, Cleatham, Kirton Lindsey, Nr Gainsborough, North Lincolnshire DN21 4JN
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With Walter’s you’re right at home. Spoon Media’s theme for Lincoln estate agent Walter’s immediately lets you know you’re dealing with a company you can trust – in this case the longest-established estate agent in Lincoln.

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When you’re working with a successful brand that’s been around for longer than two centuries, you can’t take any chances. Which was why Spoon Media’s gentle rebranding and carefully tweaked logo were the perfect counterbalance to an all-new, ultra-clean website with full content management, SEO copywriting and property search facilities incorporating bespoke MySQL databases. Needless to say, Walter’s new customers came very quickly indeed.

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Quest-eeze is a one-stop country store, animal feed retailer and online equestrian shop. Based in Lincolnshire, Quest-eeze supplies everything for the pet owner, horse rider and farmer on a local or national level.

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Spoon Media loves animals even more than our Apple Mac computers, so Quest-eeze was a natural business partner. Picking up a part-started website and semi-established brand allowed us to make our own little mark on Lincolnshire’s loveliest pet shop, extending to a complete online shop with secure payments and delivery database.

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