July 8, 2008

Idea: Thsrs, The Shorter Thesaurus

Popular new social networking services like Twitter, where users write extremely short messages about whatever’s on their minds, present a challenge: How can you intelligently get across a complex thought in just 140 characters without needing to use ugly abbreviations (e.g. “w/o needing 2 use ugly abbrev’s”)?

If only there were a service that helps with the struggle of rewriting a 146-letter message to fit in a 140 character limit. Well now there is: Thsrs, the thesaurus that only gives you synonyms shorter than the word you’re looking up. Just enter one of the longer words in your message, and Thsrs will suggest shorter words to use instead.

Try out the embedded version below, and bookmark www.thsrs.com so it’s always handy when you need it.*


1. Enter a long word.

2. Receive shorter synonyms.

* I considered calling it Sesquipedalian but I can never remember how to spell that. Thsrs was developed using the Big Huge Thesaurus API, and coding help from my friend Jay. This is a beta version, of course, so let me know if things go wrong.

Update: Thsrs is now available as a plug-in for your browser! Check out the Thsrs page for details.

Update: I thought I’d make a note about the word source, as some people have commented that Thsrs sometimes returns surprising results. Thsrs currently uses the Big Huge Thesaurus, which is based on the Princeton University WordNet Database, and has the distinction of being the only thesaurus I found with an API. If you know of a better easily-accessible Thesaurus word source, let me know and I’ll see about switching over. In the meantime, additions to the database can be suggested by visiting the BHT, looking up a word, and using the “Suggest” form at the bottom of the results page.


Great idea. On the minus side, when I entered “awesome,” it returned “awful,” which, while indeed shorter, is not really what I meant.

Here’s an idea: let the user enter an entire sentence at once.

love it!

its choice of synonyms is questionable sometimes—such as “state” as the only alternative to “freedom”—causing its function to double as a neat way to pass the time.

The idea is great, but I am a little disappointed with the tool. I just entered “eight”, and it gave me “viii” and “VIII”. I would have assumed that “8” would be a straight-forward choice! Or am I thinking too much along text messaging lines?

It seems as if it would be trivial but useful to arrange synonyms in order of length … in any case: cool idea!

Your thsrs does not meet my needs as it did not find any matches for “testicles”.

@Pavel How about “balls” or “nuts” or “testes” or “berries”? Otherwise, do a search for “testicle” and add an ‘s’ to the end of any of the 8 words it suggests.

I’m running OSX/Safari and I type and hit enter and … nothing. I have to reach ALL the way over to my mouse MOVE it and THEN hit “search”. I almost died.

It’s a brilliant idea, but i entered the word ‘what’ and got back ‘Unknown word, try again.’.

I entered ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’, which means ‘the act or habit of estimating as worthless’.

This is, apparently, an unknown word.

I thus conclude that this new service is worthless.

Joking apart, though, it’s a great idea and it’s going on my bookmarks list right now. :)

Great idea! How I need this! Never use a long word where a short one will do

As Hemingway said of Faulkner:

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Here’s an untested/unsubmitted firefox search plugin

Can you help with the query part i.e. the GET template?

Okay I fixed it.


(Save as a file thsrs.xml for example and copy it to your mozilla/firefox searchplugins folder)


It is pretty sweet. Please make it work with the keyboard: hitting enter should start a search. :)


I prefer Dutton Speedwords. A bit idiosyncratic at times, but elegant and short.

J mote voti. Mux a ozi natoim, b belu & lox.

By the way, was the web page supposed to do anything? Clicking on the button does not submit the form.

I like it, but it would be cool if the url reflected the word you were looking up. That way I could use it with sogudi and the firefox smart URL feature.

It would be good if it could suggest the correct spelling of words which have been entered incorrectly.
Perhaps the ability to have users suggest their own synonyms to add to the database would also be useful.

Consider allowing the user to type in the text field rather than having to press the “Look Up” box. Think Google.

Gagh, stupid HTML tag parser. That should read: “…allowing the user to type “RETURN” in the text field…”

You are the guardian angel of headline writers

I’ve made an update. Hitting “Enter” should now submit the word. Let me know if I introduced a bug in the process. -David

Dude! This is just awesome!

Can you do the opposite, as well? What if I want to sound like William F. Buckeley?

You should make a version that automatically replaces long words in body text. That way I could make pretentious essays readable with a single click.

This is brilliant!

May I suggest a tag-line:

“Why use a long word, when a diminutive one will do?”

Oh, and for reference, the word Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia refers to a ‘fear of long words’. Seriously. It’s on Wiktionary, even.

Alex had a great idea above. Since I had a few extra minutes, I put together the Sesquipedalophilia Thesaurus. Basically, I took David’s code and changed a “less than” sign to a “greater than” sign. Enjoy!

(David, I hope that’s okay with you. If you want me to take it down, please say so.)

This is (for the most part) outstanding. I shall give it a go.

I just came upon your blog and must say, I love it. And your photography is stellar. Time to throw you up on the RSS.

Great idea! Needs some work though. I entered “mother” and as one of the results I got … “yeast”… and no mention of “mom” or even “mum”. Or “mommy” even.

This is a totally awesome idea!

The second word I tried was antidisestablishmenatarianism. I was almost expecting some clever comment instead of a standard response. You should totally build in a response for common REALLY LONG words, because you know everyone will try them out, and it’s not entirely satisfying to receive a normal response.

Nifty concept. I haven’t tried it, but I can see from the comments that this nascent version is buggy and/or deficient.

It puts me in mind of the “telegram game.” Is anyone else familiar with it? I think it was from an early incarnation of Games Magazine, or perhaps its short-lived sister publication, The Four Star Puzzler? The premise was saving money on telegrams, which were priced per word, by combining short words into homophonic or quasihomophonic longer ones. I did some web-searching but unfortunately found no results; was hoping for a really clever, well-constructed example. In lieu of that, I’ll try to make up something on the spot…

  • This is a comment on the thesaurus post here off of David’s ironic sans blog. (15 words)
  • Thesis acumen Honda thesaurus posture affidavits ironic sans blog. (9 words)

Okay, so that one wasn’t so hot. (I’m bummed “Ira Nixon’s” doesn’t reduce the wordcount.) But as you can see, it was never meant to be a practical thing (as Thsrs potentially is) and, depending on how far you’re willing to stretch your sounds, can be very obtuse. There must be some reason why it’s stuck in my brain all this time, though.

How about the opposite, making a plugin for firefox that reads the abbreviated text in twitter or other places and replaces with the long words?. You can magically have twitter messages more than 140 letters long.

I now know that there is no shorter synonym to “antidisestablishmentarianism”. :(

Leah, I hate to tell you this, but I think you’re out of luck for ones of the same length or longer, too.

What would be really useful is a tool to suggest longer synonyms for short words. Then I could seem all educated and stuff.

Great stuff. As a big twitterer I will use it a lot.

I had the same suggestion as Doug. Let the user feed the whole tweet into thsrs with all major words being reduced.

Also if you implement an API yourself, tools like twhirl could use it.


It’s also now a Yubnub command, for those who are interested in that sort of thing.

Your thsrs fails to come up with a shorter word for “thesaurus.” If you add that word for thesaurus you could call your service “trsr.”

Love the idea, but why isn’t there an option to submit suggestions? I typed in “momentarily” and expected to see “soon” but instead saw “momently.”

Love the idea, but why isn’t there an option to submit suggestions? I typed in “momentarily” and expected to see “soon” but instead saw “momently.”

I’m with Stephanie, this would be a much better tool if users could suggest words.

I thought I’d found the tool I’d been looking for for ages but, alas, it comes up short. (No pun intended.)

While it may take longer (much longer in some cases), going through the results of a Thesaurus.com search may still be the best way to go if one must find the shortest acceptable synonym for a word.