May 15, 2005

REJOINDER: Mark Wukas on Thesauri

“Dear Sir: Having just read your latest blog entry, I take the gravest possible exception to your inclusion of a thesaurus in your list of five essential books. As someone who has earned his salt both as a writer and a teacher of writing, I have come to view thesauri as enemies of writers for several reasons:

  • They encourage writers to use words not usually in their vocabularies, and therefore making their prose stilted and unnatural.

  • They give the mistaken impression that big words make for better writing, which they emphatically do not.

  • They make writers lazy. You will not find Flaubert's "le mot juste" in any god-damned thesaurus. If the word is not in your head, don't use it.

  • They do not improve vocabulary. If you want to improve your vocabulary, a) browse the dictionary, or b) study Latin.

I hope you will see fit to share my remarks with your faithful readers."

Mark Wukas teaches English at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. He previously worked in public relations and journalism, including stints at City News Bureau and United Press International. He also edited “The Thing About Love Is …” and taught fiction writing at Columbia College of Chicago.


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