My 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?