Friday, February 13, 2004

What is a thesaurus for?

In a review of A History of Roget's Thesaurus, John Whale (nice name) says, "The safest storehouse for writers to fetch words from is their own head." He does concede that
Of course a thesaurus can help a failing memory recall an elusive word, even though reliance on a thesaurus could end in making more and more words elusive. It can help non-native users of a language enlarge their vocabulary, though . . . with a risk of solecism. It can help copy-editors clarify a paragraph where the writer has used the same word in two different senses. It can ease the fitting of headlines into a fixed space, or the writing of verse in a regular metre, or the solving of uncomplicated crossword clues. Perhaps those are the aims that Roget is still in print to serve.

In my experience, a thesaurus is a machine by which students convert a few syllables to many and an exact meaning for one that grazes the mark.

I once had a student who wouldn't stop using qua until I told him I would reduce his grade by one letter every time I found it.
The library? How quaint.

A report on the Effect of the Web on Undergraduate Citation Behavior, with information on the Composition of Citations, Distribution of Citations by URL Type, and the Persistency of Cited URLs aged 6 months.

From the article:
---Why are bibliographies getting bigger? Access to information is not a limiting factor to student research—time is. Students, many of whom are working on their term papers the night before they are due, may be selecting Internet resources because they perceive them to be more convenient than traditional library research.
---Since the mid 1990s, the academic library has lost its control as the sole information resource provider on the college campus.
---Without citations that pass the test of time, we have no way to proceed forward because we can no longe see the past.

This study may have its limits, but I don't doubt that its conclusions are in the right direction. And don't forget that these students are several rungs up the ladder from the kids buying entire papers, Works Cited page and all.