We all have favorites. Not only we take sides on historical rivalries (PC/Mac, Coke/Pepsi, draft/bottle, breastfeeding/bottle), but we also have strong preferences when several options are available (Haagen Dazs flavors, phone apps, types of exercise, books). They become our choices, and they end up defining us.
And some of us have this strange relationship with words. I love the word “weird,” for example (can’t imagine why). However, go-to words are not the writer’s best friends. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel, an essay, an email, a blog post, or a text message. If we use a word or group of words repeatedly, readers will see us as lazy, unimaginative, unprepared, or worse: weird.
The answer? Thesauri and dictionaries! Some writers love their trusty copies of Webster, Oxford, or Roget. I rely on Webster’s, but I like the flexibility of online sources.
I use Bing search engine (I’m a PC). For example, suppose you want to use the word “pedantic,” but you aren’t sure of its exact meaning. You can type “define pedantic” in the Bing search bar, and it’ll return results from the Bing dictionary and from many other sources (dictionary.com, Merriam-webster.com, sometimes even Wikipedia).
Then you might think that using the word “pedantic” is a little pedantic. No problem. Type “synonym pedantic” and you’ll find many alternatives from Bing, thesaurus.com, synonym.com.
You can use “define” with phrasal verbs too. Note: I prefer to use a copy of McGraw Hill’s Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs.
It’s handy if you’re looking for slang or idioms too. Sometimes it returns results from the Urban Dictionary. As a YA writer, I find this site invaluable. Beware: many of the entries are inaccurate, hilarious, and wildly profane. Please use your best judgment.
Online sources are usually more up-to-date than hard copies. They are also fun when you’re doing free word association. You can go through many links in the chain faster than if you were using a hard copy, and bookmark them for later use.
Do you have “go-to” words? Do you use other sources? Which words baffle you? Once I mixed up “asymptotic” and “asymptomatic”—ouch. Please share!
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