Using words like John McPhee

One of my favorite writers is John McPhee of Princeton, NJ. He’s written for The New Yorker since my memory of him began, and published many books with the Macmillan publishing company.  He’s the good reason I preach from a manuscript rather than extemporaneously: if a phrase is worth listening to, it’s worth constructing well. There are bad reasons, like my poor memory and laziness, but let us stick with the good.

In April 2013 he wrote a piece for The New Yorker called Draft #4. He talked about how he punched up his content (to use words he never would use). He singled out certain words and phrases and worked to make them more precise, by looking at a dictionary. He denied using a thesaurus.

Now there’s an article by James Somers called “You’re probably using the wrong dictionary.” Mr. Somers deduced that Mr. McPhee probably used Noah Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. Its definitions are loaded with synonyms.

A project at the University of Chicago has made it available online.  Mr. Somers has also made it available for download in a form usable in StarDict.


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