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Writing 101: Working with a Thesaurus Can Be Scary

As we enter the month of Halloween, I'm sure you're already seeing all of the costumes available to help you change your persona for the holiday. In a way, a thesaurus is a costume for your writing.

When you use a thesaurus, you're taking your usual words (your day-to-day persona) and turning them into something else. But - as with any costume - if you're not careful you can end up getting too much trick and not enough treat.

To help explain, let's take a look at a basic sentence:

The guard turned to open the door.

It's straightforward, right? We probably all have the same basic image in our minds of someone in a uniform pivoting in some way to "un-close" a door of some kind.

If we grab a thesaurus, we can move all sorts of different directions, though. For instance:

The sentry twisted to unlock the gate.

Or possibly:

The guardian pivoted to unhinge the portal.

Each of those is evocative of a very different situation. (In my mind, we've gone from a possible prison situation in the original to something possibly medieval, to something that might be science fiction.)

But, if you're not really paying attention to your thesaurus and the parts of speech that the replacement words give you, it can get pretty bad. After all, "guard" can be a verb and "open" can be an adjective. This means that a bad trip to the thesaurus could result in:

The protect changed to overt the ingress.


The bulwark revolved to commence the aperture.

Neither of which is as successful as the earlier options. It's kind of like searching for a Halloween costume and instead of buying the Joker you get the Riddler. Or when you're shopping for a vampire costume instead of Dracula you end up looking like Edward Cullen (though, honestly, I'm not sure which is more terrifying).

Your thesaurus can be a great treat - just be careful that you don't get tricked.

**All photos from

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