Understanding the Visual Thesaurus
The Visual Thesaurus is a visual representation of the English Language. In order to understand the Visual
Thesaurus, we need to think about how languages are structured. In particular, we need to think about the
relationship between words and meanings in language.
Many words have multiple meanings (sometimes also called senses). The Visual Thesaurus displays
meanings as individual circles connected to words.
Circles Represent Meanings
The word pen, for example, has six meanings. Five of the meanings of pen are nouns, and one is a verb.
For this reason, the circles in the Visual Thesaurus representing meanings are color coded to indicate their
different parts of speech.
Color represents parts of speech
The most common meaning of pen as a noun is "a writing implement with a point from which ink flows."
Pen can also be used as a verb. When used as a verb, it means "produce a literary work".
What is interesting is that the word pen is not in and of itself a noun or a verb. It is the individual meanings of
pen that belong to a particular part of speech.
You can roll over meanings in the Visual Thesaurus to see their definitions. Most meanings also have an
example sentence that expresses that meaning.
Roll over a meaning to view its definition
All of the meanings which are shown as circles on the screen at any time are also displayed in list form on
the right hand side of the screen. The four "meaning lists" on the right show the definitions of all the current
meanings, separated by part of speech. When you roll over a definition in the meaning lists on the right, the
definition of the corresponding circle appears in the main display. Conversely, when you roll over a circle in
the main display, the corresponding definition in the meaning lists is highlighted.
Just as a word can have many meanings, a meaning, or sense, can be expressed using multiple words. For
instance, "produce a literary work" can be expressed by not only the word pen, but also write, compose, and
indite. The words associated with the same meaning are all synonyms, and therefore belong to the same
synset. In the Visual Thesaurus, words that belong to a synset are connected to their shared meaning by
Meanings can be expressed by multiple words
The Visual Thesaurus can show more than just synonyms. It also reveals the relationships between
meanings. Connections between meanings are displayed as dashed lines. You can roll over these lines to
view the nature of relationship between two meanings. For instance, when you roll over the line connecting
"a writing implement with a point from which ink flows" to "an implement that is used to write," you learn that
a pen is a type of writing implement.
In fact, if you click on the red circle that represents "a writing implement with a point from which ink flows,"
you can see all the other types of pens. You may notice that when you clicked on the meaning, a small
"compass" appeared in the lower right hand corner of the main display. This is the Narrower Terms
Compass. The Narrower Terms Compass appears in the lower right corner of the display whenever broader
or narrower terms are displayed and always points in the direction of narrower terms.
In this case, it shows that all of the different types of pens, like fountain pen and ballpoint pen which are
"narrower", or more specific terms for a pen, appear closer to the top of the display. Broader terms for a pen,
such as writing implement appear toward the bottom of the display.
The narrower terms compass points in the direction of narrower terms
"Type of" relationships, like the previous example, are just one of the 16 categories of relationships that the
Visual Thesaurus can display. The relationship categories include:
Antonym: A noun, verb, adjective, or adverb that expresses the opposite concept of another word.
Good is an antonym of evil
Pertains to: An adjective that is related or pertains to another word.
Academic pertains to academia
Participle of: An adjective that is derived from a verb participle.
Applied is a participle of apply
Derived from: An adverb that is derived from a verb participle.
Fondly is derived from fond
Entails: A verb X entails Y if X cannot be done unless Y is, or has been, done.
Snore entails sleep
Verb Group: A group of verbs that share related meanings.
"to go together" and "to be compatible, similar to, or consistent" are in related verb groups
Attribute: A noun for which adjectives express values.
The noun weight is an attribute, for which the adjectives light and heavy express values
See-also: A set of meanings that have different senses but express related concepts.
If you are interested in the meaning "precise", see also "accurate"
Is similar to: An adjective that is very close in meaning to another word.
Precise is similar to meticulous
Is a type of: A term that is a type of another term.
A Dalmatian is a type of dog.
Is a part of: A term that is part of another term.
A spoke is a part of a bicycle wheel.
Is made of : A term that is made of another term.
Brick is made of clay.
Is a member of: A term that is a member of another term.
A Democrat is a member of the Democratic Party.
Domain Category: A term that expresses the branch of knowledge that a term belongs to.
The domain category of e-mail is computing.
Domain Region: A term that expresses the region that a term is associated with or originated in.
The domain region of kamikaze is Japan.
Domain Usage: A term that expresses the way that a term is used.
The domain usage of Frisbee is a trademark.