Beware the Online Thesaurus

Did you know that the word “Finance” actually means “Chicken Liver”? Well, if you don’t, maybe it’s time to consult Thesaurus.Com where many young learners often go a-searching for jaunty synonyms to liven up, vivify, and put zap into their essay writing.

As an online academic tutor, I see this frequently. Students simply plug a word into to find a panoply of synonyms from which to choose. A selection of words — color-coded for their “relevance” to the original — then pops up. The problem, however, is that many young minds think all synonyms are interchangeable. After all, the word “synonyms” is defined by as words “of the same language that have the same or nearly the same meaning.” But, the word “nearly” here nearly always gets overlooked. And, maybe from too much time spent in math classes, young pupils think synonyms somehow follow the Transitive Property of Equality, wherein: If A = B; and B=C; then, A = C.

But, of course, words and their subtle definitional variations don’t work that way. From one synonym to the next, each is slightly oblique to the other in its meanings and usages. So, it’s like a round of the game Operator. The word that begins the round — in this case, “Finance” — bears only a scant relationship to the very silly term — “Chicken Liver” — by the end.

So, how does Chicken Liver have anything to do with Finance? Let’s go on a journey down’s rabbit hole to find out. (You can play this game online too, but your predilections might lead you to other lexicographical destinations.)

Obviously, “Finance” takes us to “Money” which in turn leads us to “Loot.” But, notice — at only two synonyms removed — we’ve vered from the fuddy-duddy world of finance to a full-blown bank heist. Now, “Loot” takes us, sensibly, to “Plunder,” which leads us all to “Pillage” — and by this point we’re just getting so much more dramatic. We’re talking about plundering during war and taking things such as “booty.” Why are you giggling at “booty”? It’s a technical term.

“Pillage” now leads inexorably to “Pilfer,” “Filch,” and “Purloin” — three old-timey words that conjure either a trio of cuddly kittens or one unscrupulous law firm. Of course, “Purloin” takes us to “Swindle” which soon lands us at “Flim-Flam.” And, “Flim-Flam” is defined as “deceptive nonsense,” which — unless I’m some sort of Flim-Flam Man — may be what this synonym search is feeding us.

Now, “Flim-Flam” takes us to “Diddle.” Defined as “to move with short rapid motions” or to “waste (time) in trifling,” this word has taken on idiomatically more suggestive meanings of late, about which we need not diddle here.

From this point, it all gets progressively sillier. Without dawdling, “Diddle” quickly transports us to “Dawdle.” Why do we even have separate words for “Diddle” and “Dawdle”? illustrates the meaning of “Dawdle” with reference to a Jane Austen character who “dawdled about in the vestibule.” So, now kids have to look up what a “vestibule” is?

Nothing can stop “Dawdle” from being synonymous with “Dilly Dally” which is, of course, defined as “wasting time” by “loitering,” “delaying,” and, of course “dawdling.” Don’t you love the circularity of these definitions?

We all know that “Dawdle” also means “Mosey” which, in turn, means “Traipse.” According to, “Traipse” is defined as: “to walk or travel about without apparent plan but with or without a purpose.” Perhaps we’ll need to consult an attorney to determine what does or does not constitute an instance of “traipsing” precisely. This could be key if you’re ever called upon as a witness.

You could probably see it coming, but “Traipse” leads to “Prance” which is defined as “to spring from the hind legs or move by so doing.” Might it be that finance executives — in their enthusiasm for loot — sometimes spring from their hind legs? “Prance” now springs us toward “Sashay.” A beautiful example of how Sashay is used in Harlem Renaissance literature is provided by from the writer, Dorothy West: “Her friends had long whispered to her about Lute’s sleek good looks, and the way he sashayed about the island as if he owned it.” Obviously, Lute’s got it going on.

In any case, “Sashay” takes us to “Flounce,” defined as “to move with exaggerated jerky or bouncy motions” in such a way as to “draw attention to one’s self.” Oh my! To avoid alarming others — or even spraining a muscle — just make sure you don’t flounce too hard when you’re sashaying! “Flounce” then sashays us toward “Swish,” which is defined not as the sound made after I shoot a basketball, but “to move, pass, or whirl with the sound of a swish.” Of course, the student might still not know what a “swish” is here, but can always go to Presently, “Swish,” takes us to “Swank.” Who knew that “swish” means “swank” while “swank” means “swish”?

Many people are perhaps unaware that “Swank” also means “Posh,” but soon, since it’s online, it may become common knowledge. “Posh” is defined as “elegant” or “fashionable” or, in British usage, “typical of or intended for the upper classes.” Back here in the States, however, people say “La-Di-Da” to all things “posh” and agrees.

But, here, it all takes a dark, homophobic turn. “La-di-da” is somehow synonymous with “Sissy” which is defined as an “informal and disparaging” term for an “effeminate man or boy,” as well as a “timid, weak, or cowardly person.” Somehow, I knew that once we were on about “Sashaying,” it was just a matter of time before the algorithm for synonym-generation would pop up something so questionable.

But, it gets worse. In manly fashion, “Sissy” marches us toward “Wuss.” From experience, we all know that a “Wuss” is a “weak, cowardly, or ineffectual person.” To illustrate “Wuss” in literary usage, Merriam-Webster gives us these queries from Frank Cammuso and Hart Seely (who created an acclaimed cartoon series about cats piloting a spacecraft): “You don’t like turtlenecks? You say they’re too tight? What are you, some wussy?”

Now, if “Wuss” does not suit your academic writing purposes, you might substitute its synonym “Namby Pamby.” Of course, by “Namby Pamby,” we mean, “lacking in character or substance: insipid; weak;” or “indecisive.”

What’s another word for all that Namby Pamby stuff, according to Well, it’s literally “Chicken Liver.” If you look up “Chicken Liver” at, however, you’ll only find its adjectival form: “Chicken-Livered,” which means “fainthearted” and “cowardly.” On, however, it appears simply as “Chicken Liver.” And, they’re not talking about the food or the poor fowl’s organs either!

So, there you have it — “Finance” means “Chicken Liver.” It’s right here on Now, stop dilly dallying, dawdling, and diddling, and get on with the Essay!





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