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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Teaching Moments

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Originally published September 4, 2009

Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group – East Bay

There’s no sound more dulcet than the quiet of an empty house when the kids go back to school. I can go back to writing and finding different ways to express “sweet-sounding” such as “dulcet”.

I could have chosen “melodious”, another word for “sweet-sounding” offered by the online thesaurus, but I thought it sounded too musical. Likewise, I rejected “mellifluous” because it tangled the tongue and “euphonious” because it sounded, well, too phony.

As a writer, I couldn’t live without a thesaurus. I’m guessing it’s like a scalpel to a surgeon or a weed-whacker to a gardener. It’s an essential tool that enables me to get the results I want. Then, I can be “sedulous” (another word for “exacting”) in my choice of words and convey precisely what I mean, so I can write with great “aplomb” (another word for “self-confidence”).

Without a doubt, the online thesaurus is the best tool to be found anywhere. It never fails to exceed my expectations. No matter what I’m looking for, whatever my whim, it offers more choices than I thought possible. Take the word “whim”, for instance. If I had a whim to search for alternate words with similar meaning, the thesaurus offers 22 options, such as “caprice”, “conceit”, “craze”, “desire”, “dream”, and “fantasy”. For me, the thesaurus satisfies every desire, beyond my wildest dream – the ultimate fantasy.

The only disappointment is that I may never have a use for all the great words I come across. I’d need to write about something that contains a degree of drama to use “apocryphal” and “spurious”. I don’t know whether I’ll have a chance to describe someone who possesses so much enthusiasm that I can pull out “ebullient” and “brio”. Who’s to say if I’ll ever be lucky enough to have the opportunity to recount an unpleasant fight – “affray” or “pother” – resulting in “sniveling” or “puling”.

At least, with the words I pick-up, I have something new to teach my kids. The thesaurus offers a “word of the day” which I especially like to share with them. But first, I have to look up the word in the online dictionary, so I can figure out how to use it. Past words include “hebetude” (mental dullness, sluggishness) and “celerity” (quickness, swiftness). You could say that I experience hebetude and show absolutely no celerity, when I see unfamiliar words.

By tossing around new words, I try to create teaching moments. When my teenage daughter complains about a peer in middle school who bad-mouths others, I respond, “She sounds like a real ‘quidnunc’.” And when my youngest daughter is wowed by the shimmering jeweled trim on a dress worn by the latest teen star, I offer, “That’s some ‘furbelow’.”

For some reason, my kids are never as excited as I am about these new words. Perhaps it’s because everyone has a different fantasy. And that fantasy doesn’t include a thesaurus.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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