Not everyone who reads this blog watched the television show “Friends.” However, it was one of the most popular shows ever, so odds are that you’ve at least heard of it. In one episode, Joey was attempting to write a recommendation letter to an adoption agency for Monica and Chandler. Not being a particularly adept writer, Joey struggled with his letter. That is until Ross showed him the thesaurus function. The result of Joey’s synonym adventure was a haphazard collision of words that made no sense. And of course, hilarity ensued when he showed the letter to Monica and Chandler:
Chandler: (reading) I don’t… uh… understand.
Joey: (sounding very proud of himself) Some of the words are a little too sophisticated for ya?
Monica: (also reading it) It doesn’t make any sense.
Joey: Of course it does! It’s smart! I used the the-saurus!
Chandler: On every word?
Monica: Alright, what was this sentence originally? (shows the sentence to Joey)
Joey: Oh, ‘They are warm, nice, people with big hearts’.
Chandler: And that became ‘they are humid prepossessing Homo Sapiens with full sized aortic pumps…?
Not that you should take your writing cues from a TV show, but this particular lesson is valid: technology is a valuable tool for writing, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot with it. MS word makes it so easy (Shift F7) to select an alternate word that it’s tempting to do it all the time. Resist that urge.
The time to use a thesaurus is not when you want to sound more important, but rather when you find yourself using the same word over and over and over again. For instance, if you find that you’ve written “grow” (as in “grow the business) several times in a business letter or your Web site, you might want to mix it up and try using develop or build. If you write one word repeatedly, it will loose its meaning — that’s when a thesaurus can come to your rescue.