Tag Archives: Visual Thesaurus

The Visual Thesaurus: A Tool for Exploring Semantic Relationships

In a recent post on the SpeechTechie website, run by SLP Sean Sweeney, he talks about vocabulary development and online web resources. As a result of reading the article, I decided to share another resources that folks may not be aware of: The Visual Thesaurus.

The thesaurus [1] was developed by a New York-based company called Thinkmap, Inc. which “develops and markets software that uses visualization to facilitate communication, learning, and discovery.” It’s basically a huge semantic network where you type in a word and it generates a web of associated items. Here’s an example using the word frolic, as suggested by Sean in his article:

Visual Thesaurus data entry

Type in a word


"Frolic" generates a web


...click "play" then,,,


...click "flirt" then...


...then "butterfly"

You can keep on clicking until you reach a dead-end, but then you can start clicking backwards and find new semantic avenues to explore. It’s a fun way to learn about the interrelated nature of words, and a great way to simply take a walk through words.

The software also provides different settings so you can customise your exploration experience. And if you want to print out your current set of associations, you can do, making for fascinating visual records.[2]

Relationshio setting

Play with the setting

The thesaurus offers definitions and pronunciations, and you can also switch or add languages for a more international flavor! Here’s an example of having the French search option included; I typed in marcher (to walk) and the screen filled up with associations!


Adding French for "marcher"

As with all things that are fundamentally visual in nature, the only way to really get a feel for the Visual Thesaurus is to experience it for yourself. The free version lets you have five “tries” before stopping. There is a 14-day free trial if you’re happy to hand over an email address and some details, but for only $20 you can have a one-year subscription to the full version, which I consider great value for money. You also have access to the online articles, blogs, and departments, such as the “Wordshop – Online Activities for your Classroom.” All in all, a marvellous resource.

For more details, go to The Visual Thesaurus and try it out.

[1] I continue to have a hard time with the pronunciation of “thesaurus,” despite regularly revisiting it. Both the Oxford English and Merriam-Webster dictionaries say it’s /θɪ’sɔrəs / but I keep wanting to shift the stress to the front and have /’θɛsəˌrəs/. Note that I not only change the primary stress but also the vowel. I’m happy to take any suggestions as to why I do this, either from a phonetician or a psychoanalyst!

[2] The print-outs include a picture of the web for a specific word and, if you want, a list of definitions and parts-of-speech. The print-out opens in a separate page of your browser so you can then either print it straight to a printer, save as a web page, or print as a PDF – if you have a PDF printing option available.