I used to collect old books. During my travels for work or pleasure, I would usually hit up antique stores, used book stores and thrift stores to browse through their selection of books and it wasn’t unusual for me to find a book published decades earlier – usually dogeared, well-loved or spine-damaged. Inevitably, I would tuck it under my arm and it would find a new home in one of my bookshelves after a stint on my bed stand. I didn’t always read the book from cover to cover; sometimes I would simply flip through the pages and skim the words and illustrations, soaking in the many ways in which the art of writing and crafting words seemed different in years gone by.
Recently, I picked up a Thesaurus at my local favorite thrift shop for less than a dollar. “What a treasure!” I thought. The pomegranate-red cover was stiff and appeared as if this book had never been handled or used. The simple gold scrolls on the book cover were designed with understated elegance and complimented the print face that reads, “Thesaurus.” On the spine, in an un-fussy font, all in capitals, “THESAURUS” is firmly imprinted. This little book, which fits so easily in my hands as it is no bigger than a small pocket paperback book, has sat on my bookshelf until a couple of nights ago when I was stretching for words while working on a prompt-a-day writing exercise (mahalo nui loa, #writealm, for the thoughtful prompts that continue to inspire me). I fished this thesaurus down and felt the spine and joint creak as I opened the cover. The first and second pages read:
73rd Printing … January, 1966
“What is a Thesaurus? A Thesaurus is the opposite of a dictionary. You turn to it when you have the meaning already but don’t yet have the word. It may be on the tip of your tongue, but what it is you don’t yet know. It is like the missing piece of a puzzle. You know well enough that the other words you try out won’t do. They say too much or too little. They have the punch or have too much. They are too flat or too showy, too kind or too cruel. But the word which just fills the bill won’t come, so you reach for the Thesaurus.” -From the Introduction by I.A. Richards
HOW TRUE! This is exactly why I was reaching for this little, pomegranate-red book. Like most people these days, the convenience of searching online for words via the web-based dictionaries or thesauruses, or using Google to find words, clarify thoughts is second-nature. I, too often, jump online in search of the quick answer because, well – you know, taking an extra few minutes is far too taxing on my need-to-have-it-now frame-of-mind. But, these past several weeks of carrying around and turning to my little book thesaurus has been a luxury that I intend to continue to cultivate. I have rediscovered words that have been off my radar for quite a while as I have a fairly rigid repertoire of go-to words that I depend upon when I’m writing. I have realized how limited my writing scope has been because of this wordy comfort zone.
Having a strong and large vocabulary is not the same as utilizing said strong and large vocabulary.
And with this realization, I have been challenging myself to move beyond my wordy comfort zone. I’ve also realized that moving out of my wordy comfort zone is much more challenging that I assumed it would be. Ah well – 2013 has been a year of pushing beyond my comfort zones, especially for my writing so words and word usage fits nicely into the mix.
I hope that you all will also find ways to push beyond your cozy cave of comfortable words that are always at hand and discover the new, the different, the unknown, the uncomfortable the challenging words that will shake up your worlds.