I'm starting a new blogging series to focus on reference sources I find useful on a day-to-day basis as I'm writing, editing, and proofing. Think of it as a recommended reading list, though it may encompass other blogs that focus on the craft of writing or even web sites. Really anything of value to the mechanics, style, or general process of writing.
This, then, is Part 1, to focus on my 'go to' thesaurus of choice, The Synonym Finder, edited by J.I. Rodale. I've got a copy of Roget's International Thesaurus (Fifth Edition), but it became a secondary reference source not too long after I bought The Synonym Finder.
This begs the question: How is The Synonym Finder different from any other thesaurus? I'll use Roget's (Fifth Edition) since that's the other thesaurus I own as comparison.
The Synonym Finder reads like a dictionary, except instead of word definitions it's chock full of synonyms. To find a synonym, you simply flip open the book, find your keyword alphabetically, and you're presented with a listing of synonyms. Straightforward and simple.
Roget's, on the other hand, has an index at the back of the book. You start by looking up your keyword, which in turn either has a page number next to it or, alternatively, a short listing of words or phrases which might be synonyms or might simply be words you might be looking for. Each of those words or phrases has a page number next to it. Once you've decided on a word, you go that page number where you are presented with a listing of synonyms. If you're unsatisfied with the results or simply chose the wrong 'similar' word or phrase, then it's back to the index where you need to repeat the process.
To explain better, let's run through an example. This will also serve to demonstrate which reference book provides better results. This may be a wash, but let's give it a try.
I'll randomly flip open to the index of Roget's and select a word. I've got "noodle". Roget's quirky index shows:
n member 2.7
v think over 930.13
Let's say I'm really looking for synonyms of the second entry. I'll go to 198.6 as it suggests. It shows:
198.6 head, headpiece, pate, poll, crown, scone, noggin, brow, ridge
Not bad. But I don't like that I had to flip to an index, figure out what word I really want, then I have to flip again to find the synonyms.
Let's see what The Synonym Finder has to say. I flip to "noodle" (it's easy since everything is alphabetical) and immediately see a block of entries--easily more than what Roget's has listed. We have:
head, skull, cranium, cerphalon, brainpan, poll, pate, sconce, mazard, costard, think tank, thinker, upstairs, upper story, belfry, noggin, dome, bean, nut, nob, crumpet, gourd, conk
The Synonym Finder comes up with 23 possible synonyms for "noodle". Roget's? 9. Seems as if, in this case anyway, The Synonym Finder wins by offering me more than twice the number of possible synonyms.
Granted, this was only one word, but there's a reason I keep The Synonym Finder nearby whenever I'm writing or editing. Nothing beats its ease-of-use and it gives me results fast.
No wonder The Synonym Finder is the first book I look to when I need a synonym.