The dog ate my book

Yesterday’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

The suggestion here is that just ingesting a thesaurus will move you to use fancy (near-) synonyms instead of ordinary words; most discussions of thesaur{i,u}sizing focus instead on motives for doing this, but here the idea seems to be that it just happens.

In this case, except for feline for cat, it’s not clear where Grimm’s wording came from.

What would the targets have been? Working backward:

duplicitous ‘decitful’: ok, that could have been lying or sneaky or maybe just false

base ‘ignoble, without moral principle’: low? or sneaky again?

canard ‘unfounded rumor or story’: just rumor? or maybe tale?

Part of the problem here is that canard is a rare word, and it tends to occur in the somewhat more frequent collocation (bordering on idiom) base canard, which is certainly elevated in tone or style, and is used in an accusatory way: bald-faced  / barefaced lie would be a less elevated rough equivalent, but I can’t see a way to get from that to base canard by using a thesaurus — and if you did, then duplicitous ‘deceitful’ would be mostly redundant.

To sum up, duplicitous base canard is certainly fancy talk, but it’s not something you’d get to by using a thesaurus.

Now, thesar{i,u}sizing on Language Log and this blog.

Start with my 9/30/10 LLog posting “Waving the thesaurus around on Language Log”, with a capsule history:

My first use of thesaurisize, on 11/17/04 in “Not a word!” (link), merely conveyed ‘search in a thesaurus, use a thesaurus to find near-synonyms’

Then on 10/30/08 in “Periods” (link), I used thesaurisize for a more specific sort of thesaurus-searching, namely looking for synonyms to vary the vocabulary in writing

Mark Liberman entered the thesaurus stakes on 12/6/04, in “Overpermissive quotatives: grammar change or thesaurusizing?” (link), using thesaurusizing “to describe the process of replacing words with fancier equivalents in order to impress readers”, as he put it in a later posting.

In this later posting, “Native language? Plagiarism” of 1/22/07, Mark was interested in yet another more specific reading, asking the question, “Is there a word for thesaurus-driven mis-substitution to disguise authorship?” — a species of plagiarism that attempts to cover its tracks by re-wording. Mark collected suggestions, including thesaurism (also not in the OED), but casting his own vote for Ran Ari-Gur’s lovely neologism text laundering (parallel to money laundering) in a posting the next day.

Then on this blog on 7/4/11, in “Thesaurisizing”, several addenda, including a lovely Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

in which a high school teacher, faced by thesaurisizing students, puckishly creates a fake thesaurus, only to have the students pick up her fancy-sounding inventions.

One Response to “The dog ate my book”

  1. Stephen R. Anderson Says:

    This cartoon reminds me of a story I once read in a kids’ magazine: it involved a machine with the property that you put a book in one end, and a candy bar came out the other end; you ate the candy bar and knew what was in the book. I’ve been looking for that machine ever since.

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