Finding the perfect word

by Jessie K on June 6, 2013

37d796f85f433cef8369050b731f4e8cMy all time favorite application on my computer is the dictionary. I use it every single day. Looking up words — even words I already know the meaning of — gives me a sort of secret thrill (NERD ALERT!).

I use the thesaurus a lot too in my writing. I love trying to pinpoint¬†le mot juste. But I just came across something in an April New Yorker article by the wonderful John McPhee (one of the great American writer/reporters, if you ask me) who says that the thesaurus, while occasionally useful, offers a mere “scattershot wad” of words, while the dictionary itself offers a more refined and precise word selection.

He uses the word “sensitive” as but one example, which, in a particular context, read as too pretentious. He looked it up in the dictionary and it said “highly susceptible.” “Highly susceptible” better captured what the writer was really trying to say. ¬†See? Precision.

You can read the article here (though I think it’s behind a pay wall).

Which dictionaries or thesauruses do you use?


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