Cherry Saturday, January 18, 2020

Today is Thesaurus Day.

A thesaurus is a “a storehouse, repository, or treasury” (see or more specifically a dictionary of synonyms and antonyms. For people like us, it’s word porn. There is, of course, an online thesaurus at that includes synonyms for “thesaurus” like “lexicon” and “onomasticon” and “dictionary of words,” all of which lead to other terms . . . it’s the TV Tropes of words.

Happy (Jubilant) Thesaurus (Onomasticon) Day (Diurnal Course)!

27 thoughts on “Cherry Saturday, January 18, 2020

  1. Oooh. Word porn. Also Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual Obscure and Preposterous Words.

    I went looking for more info on Mrs Byrne and discovered she is Josefa Heifetz Byrne daughter of the violinist, and also won a Grammy for best historical album. And I found this excerpt in an old NYT article.

    “ JOSEFA HEIFETZ was listening to her car radio when the strains of Schubert’s Seventh assailed her ears. ”It was the funereal pace of the scherzo that did it,” said Miss Heifetz, daughter of the legendary violinist, Jascha Heifetz. ”I was weaned on Toscanini’s idea of vivace, which, as I recall, approached the speed of light.” In her frustration she began to improvise lyrics to that piece and, over the course of a summer, to other classics.

    The result of that estival labor is Miss Heifetz’s second book, ”From Bach to Verse: Comic Mnemonics for Famous Musical Themes,” recently published by Penguin Books. The songs range from Haydn’s ”Suprise” Symphony to Rossini’s ”Barber of Seville.”

    Her other book, “Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words,” was published in 1974. “That took 10 years to write,” said the author, a resident of California’s Marin County, where she teaches piano and composition. “I weent to the San Francisco public library and got every single book I could on words.”

    What are some of her unusual, obscure or preposterous favorites? “I like omphaloskepsis,’ which means meditation while gazing at the navel,” she replied. “Or linonophobia,’ which means fear of string. Oh, and I just love tyromancy,’ which is fortuen-telling while watching cheese coagulate.”

    There are words to describe almost everything, Miss Heifetz said. “I believe there is even a word to describe fear of verse,” she added, “but I guess I’m not afflicted by that.”

    I will now go lose hours in her dictionary.

  2. I love words. I love languages. I love that words have connections with other words that connect languages and people. I love that words build stories for us to enjoy, and in so many different ways can express emotions and ideas.

    I think it’s sad to see how people, because they don’t read and USE their words, seem to more and more lose or at least minimize their possibility to understand different nuances of words, synonyms and explanations because they don’t understand the meaning of the words. It’s sometimes a bit unnerving to discover someone you’re talking to don’t understand you even if you’re using perfectly normal words because the only reading they do is chat conversations… I know people in their 50s with whom I have to use children’s language because otherwise they just don’t understand what I mean. A thesaurus would be good for them!

    Conclusion: People should

    Happy Saturday, everyone!

  3. There are a great many entries in my LiveJournal blog of expanded vocabulary – “word of the day” entries, along with the source of the expansion. Words like muliebrity, which was used in a web comic, of all places. Or haptic, which leads to proprioception. Following links taught me the meaning, and more importantly the pronunciation of tsundere. I have a nimiety of definitions, I do. How about uxorial?

    I’ve carefully passed my favorites on to the dotter, because nobody at work is in any way interested in new words. They cain’t hardly spell the ones they already know.

  4. Love my thesaurus! My fave is my Oxford. It’s hardcover and huge. Has two sections–one had quick thumb index and the other has the a-z dictionary of synonyms. It’s fab. Never write without it nearby.

    Had if for so long, I used to be able to see all the word entries clearly without my reading glasses;)

  5. Most of my experience with thesauri comes from reading stuff where the author (often a lawyer, sometimes a fiction writer) consulted them too much, and used words they clearly didn’t understand and just thought sounded impressive. The word might have been a synonym in the right context or with the right prepositions/articles/etc. around them, but as used, they were just whatever that thing is (not sure even a thesaurus could help me here) where the sentence is both pretentious and nonsensical.

    It kind of reminds me of something I’ve seen a lot in my patient advocacy work, where I’m subscribed to certain keywords for google alerts, so I see a TON of newsletters that purport to be writing about medical issues, where they take a press release and run it through some sort of program whereby a thesaurus replaces the original words with synonyms (software presumably intended to beat plagiarism detectors) and then the “newsletter” publishes it as an original article. They end up with nonsense, especially in medical contexts, where you REALLY can’t just substitute one word for an exact medical term. My favorite one referred to x-rays as x-beams.

      1. True. Considering the number of x-beams I’ve had in my life (including multiple full-body sets before they realized how dangerous they were, so my doctor could use them in his classes to show his students a rare bone disorder, and then again more recently for research studies) — it’s definitely less worrisome to think of them as cheery little beams.

        1. X-beam sounds like a term John Donne would use. He and the other metaphysical poets sometimes have terms that seem far too modern to my uninformed ear.

  6. When my sister and her fellow music majors were studying for listening comps in college they made up some hysterical mnemonics. As a result, I will never be able to hear the Soldiers’ Chorus from Faust without hearing,
    “My uncle clobbered a kangaroo
    Gave me the gristly end to chew
    That was a loverly thing to do
    To clobber a kangaroo and give me the end to chew!”

    I’m grateful that as a woman, I’ll never be asked to sing that as written, because after thinking of the Kangaroo version for 49 years, I doubt if I could get the words right.

    1. When I was 14, I went to stay for the summer with some friends of the family in southern Germany, where I felt pretty much constantly ignorant. Because of school schedules there, this meant attending Gymnasium with my age-mate as I tried to learn some German. I recall one music lesson where a classmate had the assignment of demonstrating what a fugue was, which she did by playing her flute to demonstrate the primary melody and then its following variants. She added that vocally, it helped to recall the theme by using word mnemonics, which she demonstrated by singing “Emma, wo gehst du hin, wo commst du her, wann gehst du wieder?”

      Which blew me away and made me feel even more ignorant, if that was even possible. I have no idea what fugue she was demonstrating, but the mnemonic ditty has stayed with me for 50-plus years now.

  7. My favorite thesaurus is Not only do you get help with synonyms, antonyms, definitions, and pronunciations, but you can also find rhymes and word forms (say you have a verb but you want that word in adjective form, wordhippo will give you suggestions). Plus more tools that I don’t use. Check it out if you’re not familiar with it already.

  8. I still use my grandmother’s Roget’s thesaurus that she passed on to me when her cataracts got too bad for her to use it. I love browsing through it. The internet has its own serendipity, but it’s not quite the same kind.

    1. I have one of those, too. My brother got our parents’ but I have the same red edition which was a great-uncle’s. It’s on the small bookcase by my bedside — probably the most distinguished work there.

    2. Yes! Online is great for fast answers, but when I’m noodling on headlines or taglines, I love flipping through my hardcover Roget’s.

  9. I just saw this and though “How appropriate.” So I figured to appropriate it:
    Minute and minute shouldn’t be spelled the same. I’m not content with this content. In fact, I object to the object. Wait – I need to read what I read again. I mean, excuse me, but there’s no excuse for this. Okay, someone should wind this post up and throw it into the wind.

    (The first one was from me not remembering how to spell apropos and finding the other choice fit in with this theme.) I realize that this type of thing isn’t under sinner-names but homographs.

  10. I have a copy of Roget’s Super Thesaurus by my desk. Not just any thesaurus, mind you. The SUPER one. Second edition, so clearly even more super than the first Super Thesaurus. (1998)

    I love me some words. I grew up in a family of word people. Every Saturday night my parents and sisters and I would go to my maternal grandparents’ house for dinner, and we would do something called “Ink Pinks” (for example, the clue would be “dance on a red porch” and the answer would be “cotillion on a vermilion pavilion”). And there were always a great many dreadful puns. I suspect this explains a lot…

  11. A friend of mine was so enthusiastic about her New Century Dictionary, Deluxe Illustrated Edition, 1959, that I bought a used copy. It’s replaced my two other Websters.

    I LOVE the illustrations, and so far, it’s had just about every word in it, except for ones that sprang into being after 1959 and I pretty much know the meaning of those words already.

    It’s huge and thick and needs to be rebound. I wish a had a pedestal for it.

  12. I grew up in a family of word people. Playing scrabble was hell. Especially as I had a lot of trouble with spelling. So much that it stymied my writing and I didn’t actually do much except poetry until spell checkers became widespread. I love words. It was a joy to talk with my mother whose vocabulary was verbose. But being unable to spell was hell for a very long time.

    I still can’t use the word I want quite a lot of the time. At least once a day I look for spelling for a word that is so incorrect in my mind that no computer program can find it.

    1. I am convinced that spelling ability is a genetic trait. Two of the smartest people I know couldn’t spell their way out of a wet paper bag.

  13. Less than half an hour after I’d commented about the thesaurus I love, I got an “Amazon recommends” email touting “The Emotion Thesaurus.”

  14. Just the mention of a thesaurus always reminds me of a note I saw in a secondhand bookshop in Sheffield (England) over 20 years ago now. They had scraps of paper pinned to the shelves with notable things customers had said to them over the years, and one was the query “Do you have one of those books that is like a dictionary, but isn’t, and sounds like a dinosaur?”

    Amused me then, amuses me now. 🙂

Comments are closed.