I looked up 'monsoon' in the Oxford English Dictionary. It lists 'tempest' and 'squall' as its synonyms. However monsoon is a rain-giving wind or the rainy season but the other two are severe windstorms.

Similarly I check for 'professor' - the synonyms are:

holder of a chair, chair, head of faculty, head of department

None of these seem to be correct - not all professors hold chair positions, not all of them are heads of department or faculty... The definition "highest-ranked academic" alone seems to be correct but the list of synonyms is not.

Is this more of a thesaurus list wrongly labeled as synonym list?

  • 1
    A synonym word is a word that means almost the same as the original word. Or, more to the point, many words like "monsoon" and "professor" have multiple definitions.
    – Hot Licks
    May 8, 2018 at 11:52
  • @HotLicks: True, but the definition of monsoon in the same link does not mention of 'windstorm'... The synonym list seems contradictory to the definition.
    – Esha
    May 8, 2018 at 12:05
  • They were compiled by different people. And the Oxford online version's definitions are generally lacking in depth. Colloquially, outside of the Indian Ocean area, "monsoon" is generally used hyperbolically to mean a sudden downpour -- "Head for the building, it's a monsoon!"
    – Hot Licks
    May 8, 2018 at 12:17
  • 2
    You have to look up 'synonym' too in the dictionary. May 8, 2018 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


Excellent question. There's a lot here to explain, some important, some trivial.

  • Those examples surely are synonyms of professor. They sound like a more European version of professor to me though. In the US, there are many professors in an academic department, but usually only one head of the department (who is a professor). There might be other synonyms that are left out, like 'teacher' or 'lecturer', things that capture more saliently the essence of a professor to you or me. Yes, I agree that that is not the best selection of synonyms, but the ones that are there are not wrong.

  • Synonyms are not intended to be perfect replacements. They are simply suggestions on nearby things. As writing suggestions related to 'monsoon', maybe you're considering 'hurricane' or 'cyclone'. Though the latter two are identical weather patterns, you can't always replace one for the other because a hurricane is in the Atlantic or East Pacific, and a cyclone is in the West Pacific. In some circumstances that is an empty distinction, in others it is everything. You just don't call that bad storm that hit the Philippines a hurricane, it's just not the right word.

  • Dictionaries are not complete records of every possible nuance. They mostly are correct by inspection; that is, if you look at a definition, you are usually confirming what you know already, or are reminded of a distinction that you didn't realize. The things you see are usually not immediately wrong (few false positives). But that leaves a lot of room for missing information (false negatives) or being complete.

  • There are no exact synonyms. For examples, 'bucket' and 'pail' refer to the same kind of shaped object. They have the same top level logical meaning. But top level logical meaning is not everything. There are associations, and different phrases they appear in. It turns out that some people tend to use one rather than the other, and the same object on land may be called something different on a boat.

  • The Oxford English Dictionary is not the same as your link, Oxford Living Dictionaries. They have different editorial staff, and different content. I think the only real connect is that they both are founded in the city of Oxford England. The OED is the definitive record of the English language, giving many detailed nuances for words, pus examples from actual writing of where a word exhibits that nuance. Most other dictionaries aren't as comprehensive and they give made-up sentences to show meaning.


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