A thesaurus is a compilation of synonyms, words of the same meaning. A thesaurus also lists antonyms, words of opposite meaning. When you want to vary your vocabulary to hold the reader’s interest, the thesaurus is where to turn. When you’ve written a word in a preliminary draft that is almost, but not quite, what you’re trying to say, the thesaurus offers words covering a range of meanings.
Sure, you may say, “I know how to use a thesaurus. When I need a synonym, I highlight the search word in MS Word, click on Review, Thesaurus, and boom, there’s my word choice list.” Perhaps you have a labor law case and want to avoid a wearisome use of “employee.” This process yields eight synonyms for “employee.”
But That’s Only a Fraction of the Story
Here are some other online options:
- Thesaurus.com offers 33 synonyms for “employee,” a good choice.
- http://www.merriam-webster.com/browse/thesaurus/a.htm shows 32 synonyms once you click through the dictionary to the thesaurus
- Visualthesaurus.com provides one choice, “worker,” via a logic diagram that also showed “employ” and “employer.”
- Roget.org, which claims to be a version of Peter Roget’s original 1852 thesaurus, seems to be of little value. It directs the user to “servant” and offers 12 synonyms, most of which would be useless for an employment law discussion.
Perhaps you prefer using a book. A modern “dictionary style” thesaurus lists search words alphabetically. Besides synonyms, some editions offer definitions and show how to use the word in a sentence. The version I checked offered 12 synonyms for “employee.”
Whether you are working online or with a book, you can expand the word choices by searching one of the suggestions to see further choices. Thesaurus.com lists synonyms alphabetically within hierarchies based on how close in meaning the subset is to the searched word. The “employee” search reveals nine synonyms in the first of three subsets. But you might choose to click on “wage-earner” from the third subset. This leads to another 10 synonyms, of which only “breadwinner” is in the top subset.
Some books route you on your way by listing an important synonym in italics or bold. Among several editions, a search for “employee” pointed to “worker” for further research. Researching the emphasized synonym consistently produces the largest number of choices.
A Classical Thesaurus is Nearly Impossible to Find
The original thesaurus grouped words logically (at least in theory) rather than alphabetically. Your best chance to find a classical thesaurus may be at an outlet or used book store. Be careful shopping online — many “original” versions are not; they are alphabetical. With a classical thesaurus, one first turns to the index, which offers choices directing the researcher to numbered sections. Synonyms for “employee” can be found in section 716, with more than 200 words comprising general references, including “performer,” “practitioner,” “worker,” “laborer,” “wage earner,” “breadwinner,” “servant,” and specific job titles, including scores of names for craftsmen, engineers, smiths, wrights and makers.
Because a classical thesaurus groups words with similar concepts, sometimes you can browse in nearby sections for a helpful word or phrase. This is especially useful when you need a similar concept rather than a word that exactly matches a meaning. Or if you’re a logophile (word lover) like me, you can browse for the pure enjoyment.
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