Writer’s Thesaurus

In the NY Sun, Benjam Lytal reviews the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, which, as the title suggests, is a new take on an old reference book: Entries have been written by the likes of Francine Prose, Michael Dirda, David Lehman, Stephin Merritt, David Foster Wallace and others. Among other things, Lytal pokes fun at Zadie Smith for preferring “pulvinate” to the over-used “pillowy.”

Much better in what way? Is “pulvinate” more communicative? Does it actually embody the qualities of a soft breast? No. Better because it’s Latinate? In Latin, “pulvinus” is a pillow, so we’re back where we started. “Pulvinate” is better, apparently, because it’s rare. But isn’t the allure of esoteric knowledge in how it’s gathered? The great writer, having traveled much in realms of gold, brings back her exotic finds. Her vocabulary reflects her resume and her interests. A thesaurus is a kind of spoiler.

Ouch. DFW doesn’t fare any better with Lytal, though Prose and Lehman find grace.

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