Don't Let the Word Thesaurus Discourage You
Writer's Aid that Works When
Word's Thesaurus Doesn't Cut It
I have heard fellow writers say, "I never use a thesaurus" so often that I began to wonder if some of them might
not want to admit that they get help with their writing from a musty old book. That prompted me to ask for more
What I heard most was that they simply never found a word they liked better than the one that originally came
to them, or that the list of words in their thesaurus did not inspire new patterns of thought.
Barbara Ann Kipfer's book functions better than a thesaurus on both counts. It works to an author's advantage
often enough to encourage her to keep picking up her Roget's Descriptive Wordfinder: A Dictionary/Thesaurus of
Adjectives. But then, that might be because this is a different kind of thesaurus.
Kipfer reminds us that her book works much like the human brain, by categorizing. She's right, of course.
Because we memorize the alphabet when we are young, we think we are naturally alphabetical animals. We are wrong.
We had to learn specific skills for using a dictionary or putting a Rolodex into order, but we group and classify
the entire world rather naturally.
I found that one of the most useful ways to use Kipfer's combination dictionary and thesaurus is to look up a
word in my old thesaurus and then cross-reference what I found there to this one . If you look up receding in a
thesaurus and find "retrogression," you could go to Kipfer's book and find other entries that were, indeed, in
your thesaurus, but you'll also find crablike. That certainly suggests a simile better than another Latinate
word like reflex or retrograde.
I also was in awe of Kipfer's approach to categorizing in her addendum. She calls it a "Quick Word Finder". It
uses very broad categories like Appealing-Unappealing. There one finds everything from the mundane (affluent,
alluring, yummy) to the really off-beat (fiddle-footed and Circean).
This is a book that should be on every writer's reference shelf -- even those who never use their other