James Somers thinks you should switch to the Websters 1913 dictionary, and he cites John McPhee's composition method of looking up synonyms for problematic words as the key to his peerless prose style. Somers makes a great case for the romance of historical dictionaries, but for my money (literally -- I spent a fortune on this one), the hands-down best reference for synonyms and historical language reference is the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose magnificence cannot be overstated.
It makes sense: there was, and is, something remarkable about his 1828 dictionary, and the editions that followed in its line (the New and Revised 1847, the Unabridged 1864, the International 1890 and 1900, the New International 1909, the 1913, etc.). You can see why it became cliché to start a speech with “Webster’s defines X as…”: with his dictionary the definition that followed was actually likely to lend gravitas to your remarks, to sound so good, in fact, that it’d beat anything you could come up with on your own.
Take a simple word, like “flash.” In all the dictionaries I’ve ever known, I would have never looked up that word. I’d've had no reason to — I already knew what it meant. But go look up “flash” in Webster’s (the edition I’m using is the 1913). The first thing you’ll notice is that the example sentences don’t sound like they came out of a DMV training manual (“the lights started flashing”) — they come from Milton and Shakespeare and Tennyson (“A thought flashed through me, which I clothed in act”).
You’ll find a sense of the word that is somehow more evocative than any you’ve seen. “2. To convey as by a flash… as, to flash a message along the wires; to flash conviction on the mind.” In the juxtaposition of those two examples — a message transmitted by wires; a feeling that comes suddenly to mind — is a beautiful analogy, worth dwelling on, and savoring. Listen to that phrase: “to flash conviction on the mind.” This is in a dictionary, for God’s sake.
You’re probably using the wrong dictionary
Mitch Wagner writes, "Talented and prolific science fiction writer and editor Mike Resnick, who has written extensively over the course of a long career about colonialism and its legacies, with a particular focus and love for Africa, has had a near-death experience and started a GoFundMe to pay off his medical expenses. I'm a huge […]
John M Ford -- AKA Mike Ford -- (previously) was a spectacular and varied science fiction writer who performed brilliantly across a wide range of genres and formats, from RPGs (GURPS, Paranoia) to licensed Star Trek fiction (his "How Much for Just the Planet" effectively created Klingon fandom) to fantasy novels like The Dragon Waiting, […]
Robert Skidelsky is an eccentric British economist: trained at Oxford, author of a definitive three-volume biography of Keynes, a Lord who sat with the Tories as their economics critic during the Blair regime, who now sits as an independent who is aligned with Labour's left wing. Back in September, Yale University Press published Skidelsky's latest […]
A typical security camera can give you peace of mind. But that might be offset by the nagging feeling that it’s watching you, too. The best kind of security system is one that protects both your home and your privacy, and the blurams Dome Pro 1080p Security Camera is one rare model that’s set up […]
Sous vide cooking: It sounds fancy, but it’s actually one of the easiest and most reliable ways to cook. It’s the reason why many restaurants are able to put out delicious dishes with a consistent flavor. All you need is the right equipment, and that hasn’t always been available to those outside the resto crowd. […]
The more you use your computer, the more it becomes possible for others to use it too. Where there are anti-virus systems, there are hackers looking for a way to get around them. That’s why it’s important to get software that doesn’t just passively scout for viruses in the background. The folks behind GlassWire have […]