An 11-year-old friend of mine had a birthday last week, and as a gift I presented him with a paperback copy of that standard student's tool, Roget's Thesaurus. I have always found a thesaurus to be helpful, particularly for school papers in which the teacher expects a better-than-average vocabulary. Using a thesaurus, one can easily find a synonym to replace an overused word, thus impressing the teacher with one's ostensible command of the language.

My little friend, whom we shall call Jasper (since that's his real name), was less than overwhelmed with my humble gift. A few days later I asked him how he liked his book.

"What book?"

"The one I gave you for your birthday? The thesaurus."

"I thought thesauruses were extinct," Jasper said.

"That's dinosauruses," I corrected, not realizing what I was saying. "Don't you even know what a thesaurus is?"

"Sure," Jasper responded. "It gives different words for the same one."

It took a minute, but once I figured out what he meant by that I said, "Right. Now, have you been using your thesaurus?"

He hesitated a moment. Finally he chirped, "Dependable."


"Dependable," he repeated.

"Why did you say that?" I asked.

"Well, I was going to say 'sure' but then I remembered the book says 'dependable' is another way to say it. So I said 'dependable.'"

"That's the idea, Jasper, but you've got to practice a little more. Have you found the book to be helpful?"

"Dependable," Jasper replied. "Yesterday I broke my bicycle so instead of saying, 'Mom, I broke my bicycle' I told her, 'Female parent, I have recently managed to create a fissure within the ferrous structure of the double-disc apparatus I utilize for transportation.'"

"And what did she say?"

"She sent me to my room. I think she took it personally."

"Sorry to hear it. How else have you used your thesaurus?" I asked.

"Robust, last night I. . ."

"Wait a second. What'd you just say?"

"'Robust.' It's another way of saying 'well.' Robust, like I was telling you, last night while we watched television I said, 'Due to the ill-preparation of our crepuscular repast, the present condition of the atmosphere within our domicile may only be described as malodorous."

"Very good. What happened?"

"My dad looked at me for a second and asked me what all that meant. I said, 'It meant it stinks in here.' Then my mom sent me to my room. Do you think you could Give my mom one of those thesauruses?"

"Good idea. But overall, how do you like the book?"

"Oh, my new book is fun to use (implement, utilize). It doesn't have any chapters (divisions, sections, cantos), or a plot (diagram, scheme, intrigue, conspiriacy), and it doesn't have characters (personages, eccentrics, originals), or a funny ending (termination, conclusion, finis, finale, expiration), but it does have whole lot of one thing."

"What's that?" I asked.

"(Vocables, expressions, utterances) Words."