Tools of the Trade: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

By Ron Fritze


In this blog, I want to share with you what has become my favorite tool for putting some variety and spice into my writing. Check out the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (2004) or OAWT for short. It is a great alternative to Roget’s Thesaurus because it is easier to use and works just as well if not a bit better. It is organized in a dictionary style and provides many synonyms listed in logical order. When appropriate, distinctions are made between formal and informal usages. Some entries also provide a few suggestions for antonyms. Examples of sentences that demonstrate usage of a word are also provided. Take the word “bad.” The OAWT gives twelve different general ways that “bad” can be used. Well over 150 synonyms and antonyms for “bad” are supplied. So if you mean “bad” in the sense of “the bad guys”, it gives alternatives like “corrupt,” “reprobate,” or “crooked” among others. If you mean “bad” in the sense of a “bad child,” it suggests “naughty,” “wayward,” or “undisciplined” among others. Remember, there are often subtle differences in meaning and connotation between some of the alternative suggestions. They are not necessarily inter-changeable parts. Keep your dictionary handy so that you can pick out the word that works best for your situation.
The OAWT is also peppered with little essays on “word notes,” “the right word,” “easily confused words,” “usage notes,” and “lists of word spectrums.” Between “competitive” and “competitor” there is a nice little “Word Note” on how “Darwinian” can be used in various ways. Later between “fortuitous” and “fortunate” there is a “Usage Note” regarding “fortuitous.” It points out that the original meaning of “fortuitous” was “something that happened by chance.” Modern usage, however, frequently uses it in the sense of a good or fortunate outcome. But this is etymologically incorrect and the editors suggest that the later definition should only be used in informal writing or not at all.
I like the OAWT so much that I have given it to favorite students as a graduation present. It will last you a lifetime and it will get you to the lightning word every time. By the way, what are some synonyms for “doohickey?”

2 Responses to Tools of the Trade: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

  1. Guy McClure says:

    I have to admit, I love the Thesaurus feature on my computer – but nothing feels as right as using the tattered leather-bound volume I’ve had for years.

  2. Kevin Dupre says:

    Doohickey? With a fondness for language, frequently I find myself searching for just the right word, although I often have to settle for whatchamacallit. Although I still sometimes use an OAWT or a Roget’s, more often I search online for synonyms. Therefore, I offer this list from the online urban dictionary to illustrate current improvisational skills many employ when unable to find the name for this gizmo or that doojawocky: thingamabob, thingamajig, thingy, whatchamacallit, doodad, gizmo, thing, gadget, object, watchamacallit, whatsit, doojigger,doomaflotchie, googly-hoo, hickey, doogsi, doog si efil,
    doogums, doogun, doogus, doogy, dooh, Dooha, Doo Haa, Doo Hee,
    Dooh Nibor, Doohok, doo hoo, doo-inka, doo itashimashite, dooj, Dooja. doojam, dooja pee, doojawocky, dooje,
    doojhooplex. ;-)

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