Friday, September 28, 2012

Chambers Thesaurus, 4th Edition


I just got a copy of the new fourth edition of the Chambers Thesaurus and I can say that this is definitely a keeper. It has over 1100 pages of fantastic information and it is the kind of reference book that you just want to spend time skimming. Here are some of the things I like about this thesaurus.

It explains synonym nuances, so you understand the difference between, well, “difference” and “dissimilarity”, “diversity”, “variety”, “distinction”, “unlikeness”, “contrast”, “discrepancy”, and “divergence”. This will be especially helpful to people who are learning English as a foreign language, I think. When I taught English as a foreign language, I noticed how common it was for people to simply use synonyms they found in a thesaurus without actually understanding these nuances. But of course even native speakers need this sort of information.

The book also includes idioms, so you can find ways of varying them (“once in a while” or “sail through” or “a sticky situation”). People tend to overuse clich├ęs, so being able to look them up in a thesaurus is really helpful.

The Chambers thesaurus also says if a term is technical, old-fashioned, formal, or colloquial, which is essential information when writing or translating. I have found that university students often get confused about formal versus informal language, so I will recommend that they check this thesaurus to get advice.

Another helpful feature is that the thesaurus gives extra information. “Carriage” doesn’t just give synonyms but also offers a list of forty different types of carriage, which can be especially helpful for writers or translators who need just the right kind of carriage in their text. Similarly, “zodiac” also gives the signs of the zodiac and their symbols, and you can learn which “rhetorical devices” exist.

The thesaurus also has quotations. For example, Harper Lee’s “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” illustrates “conscience” very well, but it is also a quotation worth knowing.

One of the most entertaining parts is the “word lover’s gallimaufry”, which has over 50 pages of lists and explanations. What’s the difference between a flexitarian and a pescatarian? How can you express disbelief (“what a load of cobblers!” or “pull the other one!”)? What terms might an estate agent or a gamer use? What are some global English words you can use to spice up your language usage (“bergie” or “pom”)? What do you call someone who collects cigar bands and who is a “vecturist”? What are some types of extreme sports (“tombstoning” and “zorbing” are among them)? This section is fascinating and amusing.

Since the Chambers thesaurus is so big, it covers a lot of territory. That means the book takes up quite a bit of space on the shelf, but I think it’s worth it.

In short, this thesaurus (or “lexicon”, “dictionary”, “wordbook”, “vocabulary”, “repository”, or “wordfinder”) is really practical (and “valuable” and “worthwhile”). It is definitely the thesaurus I’ll be using from now on, and the one I’ll recommend to my students and my fellow writers, editors, and translators.

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