Depending on how old you are, you might remember being told in school about the difference between a dictionary and a thesaurus, and being shown a physical version of both. Alternatively, you might have used websites like Thesaurus.com, or simply right-clicked a word on a Microsoft Word document to explore its alternative meaning.
Whether you’re more familiar with the printed or the digital variety, today is Thesaurus Day, and many of us would be lost for words without this handy tool for finding synonyms. It can be a godsend when you look back at your written work and see that you’ve totally overused words like “great” or “interesting”.
That’s not to say it can’t be misused though, as Joey once famously did on Friends where, when trying to find a more impressive way of alluding to Chandler and Monica’s “big hearts”, he referred to their “full-sized aortic pumps”. This shows that if thesauruses are not used without considering context, the results can be nonsensical.
This is often displayed in the spam emails many of us receive every day where the senders sometimes simply run what they’ve written through a rewriter tool to try and swerve spam filters and duplicate content penalties. A memorable example I once came across was somebody writing of an event happening in “Could”. They meant that it happened in May, but since the modal verbs “may” and “could” have similar meanings, the rewriting tool they used had applied the same logic to the name of the month.
This shows the dangers of overreliance on synonyms without applying intelligence, but it can become even more ridiculous than this. When using the thesaurus tool on the Merriam-Webster website last week, I looked up the word “interesting”, and then looked for synonyms of the words I was presented with. This led me down something of a thesaurus rabbit hole whereby I discovered this:
• Another word for “interesting” is “captivating”
• Another word for “captivating” is “hypnotic”
• Another word for “hypnotic” is “sleepy”
• Another word for “sleepy” is “boring”
In four searches I had gone from “interesting” to “boring” – from the starting word to its antonym with just three words in between.
It’s no doubt possible to achieve this in fewer moves. For example, when Michael Jackson called his 1987 album “Bad”, it’s likely he was trying to imply the exact opposite of the idea that his album was awful. Speaking of “awful”, did you know that this word once had a similar meaning to “awesome”, as in “striking with awe”? Over time, it came to mean that something was particularly bad – and not “Bad” as in the Michael Jackson sense!
Try it yourself – see how quickly you can get from a word to its opposition using thesaurus entries, and let us know how you get on.
For online content writing that’s more than just a thesaurus job and that can get you results, speak to Engage Web today.