Saturday, 11 August 2012

My favourite book is 53 years old. It’s a bit tatty having been thumbed through, pored over, underlined and dog-eared.  It was a gift from my English teacher in second year high school, who, desiring to reward me for some excellent work, had told me to select any book of my choice at a particular book shop. I came home with a paperback copy of Roget’s Thesaurus.  It has been carried in satchels, briefcases and handbags and packed and unpacked during numerous house moves.  It went with me to England for six years when many other titles were reluctantly culled. It even survived, albeit charred, smelly and minus a front cover, a workplace fire in 2007. It has been indispensable as a student, teacher, parent and now, writer. It's worth its weight in gold.

It is a tool of trade, but not merely so. A dictionary is a tool. A telephone directory is a tool. A thesaurus is fun. As a trainee teacher I once introduced it to a class of young adults who had severely undernourished vocabularies.  Their writing and speech was full of the word ‘nice’.  The poor, wretched word was used to describe any pleasing thing or emotion and it got a sweat and grunt workout every time I asked the question, “So why do you like such-and-such?” I borrowed thesauruses from everywhere, enough for everyone, gave instructions on how to use it, and set my students to replacing ‘nice’ in a set of example sentences. To my surprise and delight they completed the exercise and spontaneously went on to repeat the process in examples of their own written work.  There was a buzz of discovery as they critiqued each other, selecting replacements for many over-worked words and consulting dictionary meanings for hitherto un-heard of examples. They had discovered that words could be fun, that language could be played with.

I bought myself a new thesaurus to replace the fire-damaged one, but I don’t use it. Quite apart from the different layout, which doesn’t please me, it’s pages don’t contain the memories of discovered joys.  So I cobbled together a new front board for the old one and covered the whole with shiny gold, self-adhesive plastic. Its weight is now ‘gold-plated’- sort of!


  1. That thesaurus sparked my love for words too. I'll always remember my Year Eight teacher being shocked when having asked the class "what is a thesaurus" - and clearly expecting 30 blank faces- I raised my hand and showed her the Roget I had in my bag :)

  2. I didn't know that! How wonderful!
    Spotted a 'hole' in last sentence of my first paragraph just now. I should have written, 'indispensable to ME as student' etc. As it is it reads as tho' the book has been student, teacher etc. Tut, tut!

  3. So I read your criticisms of "nice", after I posted my comment on your "Windows to the soul" blog, which read: "Nice thoughts... inspiring." Hehe. At least I upgraded my "nice" to "inspiring"... However, when life is full of drama an angst, a simple "nice day" has connotations of bliss!

  4. Even I use it in speech! It's a quick word to convey our appreciation or enjoyment.