At the moment, my favourite book is … the thesaurus! My copy is The Macquarie concise thesaurus, first published in 1985 – I have the 1998 version. Maybe its time for an update! It has an orangey-yellow dust jacket with green edges and the iconic gum leaf symbol in an acrylic painted motif on the front. The keywords are printed in bold and there’s a letter to tell you whether the keyword is a noun, verb or adjective before the suggestions for alternative words.
I use this book all the time in my writing. It’s not a tool for first draft writing but for editing. Every word has to count, every word has to pull its weight, every word has to portray exactly what you want it to say. That’s a lot of pressure on each word! Here’s a few snippets from my middle-grade novel –
Before the thesaurus – The poor mouse is desperate, hitting its head against the front of the trap.
After the thesaurus – The poor mouse is desperate, butting its head against the front of the trap. (Butting sounds more desperate than hitting).
Before the thesaurus – Mum’s voice is a wave of anger coming down the phone.
After the thesaurus – Mum’s voice is a torrent of anger hurling down the phone. (Torrent is a stronger word than wave. Coming is a vague word – hurling has a lot more force).
I attended a writing masterclass with Kate Forsyth in Sydney earlier in the year. She taught us that each word has a connotation and a denotation. Denotation is the literal meaning of the word – sparkle means to shine brightly or to be vivacious or witty. The connotation is the implied meaning, it’s a little more subtle. Sparkle in this case means artistry, fire, happiness, light, to be happy, to bubble, to excel or to shine. The word sparkle can be a verb or a noun.
So sparkle could give readers an impression of creativity, illumination, accomplishment, festivity, gladness, joy, exuberance, light-heartedness OR can imply to surpass, glow, gleam, shimmer, radiate, burn, flare, twinkle, depending on your purpose and your audience.
If your audience are eight-year-old kids and you’re talking about happiness, you might use the word joy or glad. If your audience is a group of business people and you’re trying to persuade them to improve their customer service, surpass might be the best word. If your audience is a group of women listening to a talk on spirituality, illumination or radiate might work best.
Even if your perfect word isn’t listed in the entry you’re reading, often those synonyms will trigger the right word for you.
I used my thesaurus to show a grade six class the difference in words and their implied meanings. We looked at the word walk, then used the thesaurus to find alternatives – amble, meander, saunter, roam, stroll, march, parade, swagger, tramp, sashay, hobble, shuffle, totter, traipse … It’s so much fun to do this word with kids and ask them to act out the different ways to move from point A to point B!
I’ll be taking our puppy for a walk today which means that sometimes I’ll be swaggering along with pride as really, she’s just so cute and everyone wants to stop and admire her! But sometimes I’ll be pulled along by her energetic gambol and other times I’ll be ambling along as she’ll stop to sniff everything!
If you were going for a walk today, how would you do it? Would you sashay along city streets? Would you meander along a river? Or would you shuffle through a busy crowd?