Those of us who write sometime find a thesaurus to be useful for suggesting synonyms, euphemisms or similar alternatives to words that we are trying to avoid the use of. Synonyms might be useful to avert the redundancy of using a particular prominent word a few times in a single paragraph. Euphemisms might be less objectionable synonymous options to unpleasant words.

A thesaurus does not directly define words like a dictionary does, but by providing words of similar meanings, a thesaurus indirectly demonstrates how words are perceived by society. Such perceptions may be significantly different from actual definitions. Some may be completely inaccurate. Some synonyms, whether accurate or not, are potentially objectionable dysphemisms.

A comment in one of the newspapers I work for in Southern California described those who lived in homes destroyed by the Getty Fire as ‘outside the gates’. It took me a while to determine that this is a polite way of saying that they are homeless. To me, it seems to be more exclusionary than polite, but I have never tried the phrase. It prompted me to inquire with a thesaurus.

‘Homeless’ was the basic word I inquired the thesaurus about. Some alternatives are actually phrases that are too cumbersome to substitute for a single word.

“houseless, unhoused, displaced, unplaced, unestablished, unsettled” are simple euphemisms. Some of us are familiar with the first few.

“wandering, itinerant, vagabond, vagrant” are words that describe those who are transient, so do not apply to any of us who live here.

“destitute, estranged, desolate” could be accurate for some of us, although not contingent of homelessness. The last one seems . . . odd.

“derelict” seems to be more relevant to a carcass of an old Pontiac.

“disinherited, dispossessed” are more relevant to relationships with family and friends than a domestic situation.

“exiled, banished, outcast”?! We are not political refugees! (Okay, one of us is.)

“unwelcome, forsaken, friendless, uncared-for”?! How are these words even relevant to our respective domestic situations? Furthermore, how can any homeless (or houseless or unhoused or displaced or . . . ) person experience any of this here in our remarkably welcoming and caring Community of friends in Felton?!

8 thoughts on “Thesaurus

  1. “Outside the gates” — hmm — that seems a little extreme as a ‘synonym’ for homeless. I’m sorry to hear that a SoCal newspaper used that term to describe ‘the homeless.’ My home is a townhouse, not in a gated community, and I’m certainly not homeless. Even in the area of the Getty fire, there are many homes, mostly single family homes, that are not in gated communities yet are housing people who are far from homeless. I understand that there may be gentler ways of referring to people who are homeless; however, I think there are a lot of ways to express that without implying that one either lives behind gates or is homeless! I believe that this sort of use of linguistic opposites contributes as much to the divisiveness and vitriol in our current society as the direct use of extreme wordings.

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  2. I suspect that ‘outside the gates’ is derived from very old terminology referring to someone who was scrutinized before the gates of a castle or walled city were opened to let him or her in, such as a traveler who did not live there. The term was used within the context of a comment regarding an article in the newspaper, likely to avoid using the term ‘homeless’ to describe those who lost their homes. The person who left the comment is not affiliated with the newspaper. I did not get the impression that the comment was intended to be derogatory. I researched the term merely because I did not know what it means. That is how I found all that other odd terminology. Fortunately, we hear none of it in Felton.

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  3. That’s an interesting derivation of the term “outside the gates,” — it’s interesting that somebody used it in the context of current-day locations, and I hope it’s not a term that will catch on to mean “homeless.” No offense here — it just struck me as being symptomatic of some of the divisiveness our society is experiencing these days! I’m glad you don’t hear it in Felton!

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  4. Felton is a remarkable Community. I would brag more about it, but I find that society in general is more compassionate regarding homelessness than the few haters would want us to believe. Haters are vocal, but rare. Most who are frustrated by the problems associated with homelessness are not actually haters, but just legitimately concerned with how homelessness affects their respective Communities. They would rather be proactive in helping the homeless get into homes and employment. Haters may pretend to be similarly concerned about problems associated with homelessness, but enjoy their derision of the homeless too much to help, and actually do what they can to exaggerate such problems. It is one of the common symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, which is prevalent among haters. I wrote about it briefly in ‘NPD’.

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  5. Yes — there are many issues of homelessness affecting the surrounding communities. It’s difficult to know how to resolve the issues and reduce homelessness, though, when the causes are so heterogeneous. It seems each member of the homeless community is there for a different reason, and with different needs. It would be interesting to hear more from you about Felton as you are up to writing about it.

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  6. I would like to write more; but I am really just a garden columnist. Some have suggested that I write brief biographies about some of the homeless here, and provide more detailed insight into homeless lifestyles. However, I would be concerned that such information would make the homeless more vulnerable to the few haters who stalk them. Haters hate me for sharing my insight, which is inconsistent with how they want the homeless to be portrayed. Regardless, my insight is much more accurate than what they observe as outsiders.

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  7. I very much appreciate your sensitivity to the privacy and vulnerability of the homeless, and agree that your insight has to be much more accurate than the observations of outsiders — it’s a shame, though, because your insights should be helpful to those genuinely trying to help out!

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  8. The help still gets through, regardless of any lack of insight. People still know how to find the unemployed they would like to hire, or the homeless they would like to offer shelter to. Insight is more useful for dispelling fear of the unfamiliar, and the animosity that is so commonly associated with it.

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