In a recent blog we advocated the use of the thesaurus for writers who employ the same words repeatedly. Today, we want to caution against using it in a pretentious manner. The thesaurus is great to provide variety but when you start using it to find big, obscure words, get hold of yourself, brew some coffee, take a brisk walk and assert control. Hint: if your spell check does not recognize the words you are getting from the thesaurus, it might be time to stop.
Here are some examples:
They raised him so, gambreled up by the bones of his cheek. A pale incruent wound. (This is a corpse being pulled from the river.)
He leaned back against the dark escarpment. Jagged blades of slate and ratchel stood like stone tools in the loam.
These are from SUTTREE, a novel by Cormac McCarthy. Paradoxically, we LOVE this book. This story of a man who rejects his privileged back ground to be a fisherman in 1951 Knoxville is our favorite book by McCarthy. But it is full of $50 words that we suspect may have led McCarthy to resort to his dictionary at least once or twice. Certainly, we needed a dictionary to read the book, Mccarthy’s fourth. Notably, his later books are written in more down-to-earth language.
McCarthy is a great novelist and can get away with almost anything, particularly in a book as masterful as SUTTREE. But mere mortals like most of us should use the thesaurus judiciously – particularly in the summer heat!