On this day in 1852, the first edition of Peter Mark Roget’s Thesaurus was published. Roget’s work was a pioneer achievement in lexicography. Instead of listing words alphabetically, as in a dictionary, Roget classified words in groups based on six large classes of words: abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition, and affections. Each of these categories is then divided into subcategories, making up a total of 1,000 semantic categories under which synonyms are listed. Like a biologist creating a taxonomy of animal species, Roget attempted to bring a coherent organization to the English word-hoard.
In order to make the categories more accessible, Roget’s son, John Lewis Roget developed an extensive index that was published with the thesaurus in 1879. Roget’s grandson, Samuel Romilly Roget, also worked to edit the thesaurus until 1952.
No one knows for certain how many words there are in the English language, but because of its liberal tradition of borrowing and adopting words from any language it rubs up against, there are more words in English than in any other language. In fact there are so many more in English that it is unlikely that the idea of a thesaurus would even be conceived of for a language other than English.
Roget continued the English tradition of borrowing words when he selected a Greek word for the title of his collection: thesauros which means treasury or storehouse.
Like the association of Webster with dictionaries, Roget’s name has become synonymous with thesauri (the irregular plural of thesaurus). Also like Webster, the name Roget is no longer under trademark; therefore, just because a thesaurus is called Roget’s does not mean it has any affiliation with the original work of the Roget family (1).
Roget’s original title for his work was The Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition. No Thesaurus Day can be complete without reading Peter Roget’s original Preface to his monumental work:
It is now nearly fifty years since I first projected a system or verbal classification similar to that on which the present Work is founded. Conceiving that such a compilation might help to supply my own deficiencies, I had, in the year 1805, completed a classed catalogue of words on a small scale, but on the same principle, and nearly in the same form, as the Thesaurus now published. I had often during that long interval found this little collection, scanty and imperfect as it was, of much use to me in literary composition, and often contemplated its extension and improvement; but a sense of the magnitude of the task, amidst a multitude of other avocation, deterred me from the attempt. Since my retirement from the duties of Secretary of the Royal Society, however, finding myself possessed of more leisure, and believing that a repertory of which I had myself experienced the advantage might, when amplified, prove useful to others, I resolved to embark in an undertaking which, for the last three or four years, had given me incessant occupation, and has, indeed, imposed upon me an amount of labour very much greater than I had anticipated. Notwithstanding all the pains I have bestowed on its execution, I am fully aware of its numerous deficiencies and imperfections, and of its falling far short of the degree of excellence that might be attained. But, in a Work of this nature, where perfection is placed at so great a distance, I have thought it best to limit my ambition to that moderate share of merit which it may claim in its present form; trusting to the indulgence of those for whose benefit it is intended, and to the candor of critics who, while they find it easy to detect faults, can at the same time duly appreciate difficulties.
April 29, 1852
Today’s Challenge: Synonym or Antonym?
Identify the word pairs below as synonyms or antonyms:
1. precarious and secure
2. cursory and thorough
3. destitute and poor
4. turbulence and commotion
5. palpable and intangible
6. erratic and regular
7. neophyte and novice
8. repudiate and accept
9. zenith and summit
10. pillage and plunder
11. hamlet and village
12. admonish and caution
13. fiasco and failure
14. antithesis and dissimilarity
15. euphonious and strident
Today’s Quote: Words too are know by the company they keep. --Joseph Shipley
1. Ant 2. Ant 3. Syn 4. Syn 5. Ant 6. Ant 7. Syn 8. Ant 9. Syn 10. Syn 11. Syn 12. Syn 13. Syn 14. Syn 15. Ant
1 - Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.