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My deal with the thesaurus

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I'm sitting here, staring at it, knowing how useful it is to me; yet at the same time wishing the damned thing would be a little more useful to the attention-desperate writers of the world sitting with it open on their laps, replacing every last word they are able to with something bigger. "Why," I ask the thesaurus, "can't you also tell them how to properly use the words you've given them? Can't you tell them that 'poignant' doesn't go in the same place as 'sad'?" If only it could, because you can bet that there's somebody out there writing, "The boy, feeling poignant, began to cry"; as the rest of us bang our heads against a wall, knowing full well that boys don't cry when they are poignant. Boys cry when they are sad.

Why do people write this way? I believe it is because of a desire to flaunt a gigantic vocabulary; to sound smarter and more professional. What is amusing about this desire is that by proudly displaying their larger words, these people are using them incorrectly and appearing far less intelligent than they want to. Yes, "poignant" is listed under synonyms for "sad", but it does not mean "sad". This is the key thing that lovers of big words tend to forget: synonymous and equivalent are not always the same thing; therefore, each synonym should apply to a different situation. While "sad" can adequately refer to the boy's feelings, "poignant" can actually help tell us why he is so sad. Example: "The boy, staring at the poignant scene before him, felt sad, and began to cry." Granted, "sad" is greatly undermining the boy's feelings if the scene before him has to be described with a word like "poignant", but you get the idea.

Of course, all my rabble is useless without actual definition. Who am I to say that a boy can't be "poignant"? How do I even know that synonymous and equivalent aren't always the same thing? My response is simply to whip out the dictionary.

First, let's define probably the most important word in this entire piece of writing: synonymous.

Its meaning: of, or having the nature of, a synonym; equivalent or similar in meaning.

And just for the sake of being thorough, let's also define synyonym: of like meaning or like name.

Equivalent, you will find, despite being included in the definition for synonymous, has a very different actual meaning: to have equal power: see EQUI- and VALUE]] 1 equal in quantity, value, force, meaning, etc.

Equal. Completely equal. There is no "or similar" in equivalent. It just is.

This brings us to sad and poignant. The first, defined as we well know it, says this: having, expressing, or showing low spirits or sorrow; unhappy; mournful; sorrowful. The second may come as a shock to those already convinced that the unfortunate boy in their story is, in fact, poignant: a) sharply painful to the feelings; piercing b) evoking pity, compassion, etc.; emotionally touching or moving.

Considering the definitions of synonymous and equivalent above, by now most vocabulary junkies should realize that placing large words where they shouldn't be is much like placing a grizzly bear in the icy tundra. Sure, he and the polar bear that actually belongs in freezing weather are of the same species--but he doesn't know how to survive in snow and ice. Not to mention the fact that he is glaringly obvious amongst all the white, and he just looks plain odd.

Well, my frustrated energy is drawing to a close, and anybody that happens to be reading must be wondering why I'm even venting at all (and in essay form, no less). Well, as I sit here with my thesaurus, using it only in times of dire need, I am growing tired of those people that overuse it. They are everywhere; and what's worse: they are getting praised for their "remarkable vocabularly". This is such a common occurence that, after a point, readers get used to it and can't be bothered to complain. For a time, I shrugged off these writers, finding that if I didn't pay attention to them, I could get on with my life and continue writing the way I know it should be done.

Until completely by accident, I stumbled across a writer that created the most horrendously vocabulary-stuffed piece of nonsense I have ever laid eyes on. I was in shock as I read about people "ensuing" down corridors rather than "strolling" or "walking down them; smiles that were "licentious" rather than "wicked" or "sly"; and (I shit you not) "lingual" sex. The last part trying, but failing, to refer to sex of the oral kind. Though there are a few refreshingly well-worded sentences, the story, for the most part, is riddled with similar problems. And if one tried to point that out...they would be mocked for having an inferior vocabulary. Unlike most cases of terrible wording, I found myself repeatedly drawn to this one, like people to a train wreck. It was awful, but I couldn't stay away.

Throughout this piece of writing, I have been throwing around the "poignant" and "sad" example; but what angered me into writing this was the latest of that person's offences: the "chronometer" hanging on the wall, ticking away the passage of time. My first response: "It's a freaking clock!" What is a chronometer? Taking it apart by the roots--"chrono" being the Latin root for "time" and "meter" meaning "to measure"--we can say that a "chronometer" is essentially a "measurer of time". That means anything from a wristwatch, a wall clock, an alarm clock, an hourglass, or even a sundial is a chronometer. Though common sense tells us that the "chronometer" in the story is a wall clock, by definition it could very well be a mysteriously ticking hourglass that someone decided to hang on a hook.

That's poignant.
Current Mood:
frustrated frustrated
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