Hi. Welcome. I’ve got good news. You’re in the majority of readers, writers, and users of my thesaurus.
(Note: if you’re thinking “Yeah, shh, I know, I just really want to give you feedback on this one word” click here to jump ahead.)
Yes, including me. My personal bugbear is “stalk” for penis. Every time I see that – on my OWN THESAURUS POST – my eyes roll back into my head and I go an ashy shade of green and decide I never want to see or think about a penis ever, ever, EVER again.
But that’s just me, and more importantly, that’s not how a thesaurus works. A thesaurus tells you words that can be used in place of other words – words that are generally understood in the language referred to as applying to the same or similar things. A thesaurus does not say:
“Here are some synonyms for sparkling: shimmering, gleaming, effervescing, and
glitteringbut actually I’ve redacted gl*ttering, don’t use that ever, someone once accidentally sprayed saliva on my face while they were saying the two Ts in the middle so I can’t bear to hear it now.”
There is someone out there – probably – who loves the word “stalk” in place of penis. This person may be an alien life form or a flower or someone who’s been playing too much Spore, but nonetheless. Some folks are annoyed by accurate anatomical language like “labia” because they find it medical. Some folks are frustrated by euphemisms because they think they increase social shame and stigma or bad understandings of anatomy.
Many other bloggers and writers have shared some thought-provoking takes on which words work for them; check out:
And like I said, I have my own lexical prejudices. So the safest option here – the one that gives writers space to define their own comfort zones and preferences – was for me to simply include a list of words found elsewhere, and clearly define my source texts. And I’ve done so.
If it sounds like I’m saying “So, I don’t actually care about your opinion,” that’s not it at all! Writers write for audiences. Any time you share your word preferences you give writers a chance to see their audience’s frame of mind and make informed writing choices. So, please! Let us all know!
But please don’t decide “Laurel’s thesaurus is unreliable because she copied in a word that ____ _______ used in a 1970s bodice ripper and I think that word is a bad choice for my writing.” Thesauruses don’t make recommendations – they just present a platter of options before you, the writer, the decider.
So that’s the first and most important thing. But the second thing is, I actually REALLY care about everyone’s opinions on these words and I think we should have more conversations about their connotations. So my end goal is to provide some crowdsourced data on how generally squicky or sexy each word is (still for free, still right here on the blog), and you can help! Yes, you, opinionated one!
7 thoughts on “Laurel, One of Your Thesaurus Words is Horrible and I Think No One Should Use It Ever”
Cannot begin to express how repellent ‘stalk’ is. It somehow manages to commit the synonym crimes of coy, gross, and laughable at the same time.
Truly!! I cringed when I added it to The List in 2014 and SEVEN YEARS LATER I have never gotten any more comfortable with it. (Of course, I think this is probably like kinks, where I don’t want to shame someone else who might theoretically love it, but… *blargh*)
Stalk makes me think of Jack and his big green bean stalk.
Omg, thanks for the shoutout! I absolutely love the survey idea, really curious how standard my preferences are…