I don’t want this to get around, but I wasn’t on campus over Reading Week. I wasn’t doing any reading during it, either. I’d like to think I’m of the sort who call a spade a spade, and when a spade is a week of school during which there are no classes, I call it a vacation.
Designating a week-long vacation as a time to read guarantees that I will forget how. I’ve been doing my best to escape the prison of literacy for the past week, and I’m proud of my success. Never mind that I’m going to have to relearn the alphabet in time for my 10 AM class on Monday, and not to mention the fact that I have to dictate this column to my younger sister and am taking her word for it that she’s writing down exactly what I say N’SYNC RULZ! To make matters worse, I’m working on a different computer than I’m used to, and I use ‘different’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word, meaning not as good. I tried to use the thesaurus feature just now, but it took forever, so I can’t rely on it this week to make me sound smart and big-word-knowing.
I am becoming more aware of my tendency to abuse the computer thesaurus whenever it is available. Oftentimes, when writing difficult papers, I will search idly for synonyms I don’t need, hoping that finding just the right word to describe my opinion on a Russian novel will disguise the fact that I haven’t read it. I skimp on researching for papers, secretly hoping that I’ll find first-hand quotes about the suffrage movement hidden in the list of suggested words for ‘oppression’. Perhaps it is the ease with which I am able to use the computer thesaurus that is the problem; it’s much easier to select a word and click on an option on the screen than to have to find, pick up and hunt through a book with both hands. Actually, I like flipping through a real thesaurus now and then, because, though I’ll be looking for one word, other words often catch my eye along the way. Looking something up in a paperback thesaurus always leads me on tangents and searches for other kinds of words, the sheer spontanaeity and variety of which a computer thesaurus can’t offer. As a kid I discovered that while the dictionary held the thrill of looking up dirty words, the more subtle but ultimately more satisfying thrill of the thesaurus relied on the power of suggestion. Filled with an enormous range of intriguing, evocative words, but with no rules on how to use them, to me it was the Kama Sutra of language. Maybe next year I should give this “Reading Week” idea a chance.

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