From time to time, I try to use the Word Press Daily Prompt to spur my writing imagination. I hardly ever do one on a Friday, but today’s spurred my interest so I’m going to do a short response to it. The prompt reads: “Is there a word or a phrase you use (or overuse) all the time, and are seemingly unable to get rid of? If not, what’s the one that drives you crazy when others use it?”
It dawned on me a couple of months ago that there are many words and phrases I use constantly, sometimes in nearly every other sentence. I asked myself, if this continuous repetition was beginning to drive me crazy, what must it be doing to my readers? In my own defense, I believe the source of this bad habit is found in doing a great deal of writing in my capacity working for a government contractor. That industry has it’s own vocabulary and that vocabulary has changed very little in the past four decades; everyone expects those familiar with the industry to use the same sort of verbiage. I’ve found it extremely difficult to shake the habit, but knew I need to try.
I began casting about for ways to spice up my vocabulary, and my pursuit of wisdom took me to many foreign climes. The truth is, however, my search ended up closely resembling Chesterton’s English explorer who set sail around the world hoping to discover new and exotic lands, only to find himself washed up on the shore at Brighton. Just like that admiral of the ocean blue, I ended up exactly where I began so many years ago in freshman English, with an old, dusty, copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, pulled from a much neglected area of my bookshelf. Opening it’s slightly discolored pages (it, sadly, hadn’t seen sunlight in many years), I saw laying before me a place where an old logophilic explorer like myself could spend countless hours just drinking in the mystery and inter-connectedness of words. The solution to a long developing problem had been found in an instant. I keep the book close at hand now whenever I write and try to refer to it often; it’s the perfect antidote to trite, dull, worn out language. In truth, it’s become something of a game; if I write a word that triggers just the slightest discomfort, deep down in my writer’s psyche, I take a break, pick up my thesaurus and see if there’s a better word to use in it’s place. It’s actually fun, and I’m learning something, new words, at the same time.
If there’s one recommendation I’d make to any writer, it’s the use of a thesaurus to spice things up. I don’t know how hard it is to find a hard copy of Roget’s indispensable resource, but a handy alternative is the web site, Thesaurus.com. Many, these days will prefer the tech based solution, and it is a well designed web site, but if you can find the book, perhaps at a good used bookstore, grab it up. You don’t have to have a computer to use it and it’s hidden delights are many; just open it randomly at look at the first word that you see, you may find your own Brighton shore.