January 18th: National Thesaurus Day
The thesaurus, a book that serves as a cross-reference for synonyms, and serves as a guide to effective and precise use of language, is a necessary tool of every writer and even some readers.
Dr. Mark Peter Roget (1779–1869) was a British natural theologian, physician, and lexicographer. He suffered from depression his entire life: beginning at the age of eight, his coping mechanism was obsessive list-making. He wrote the first draft of the eponymous English-language thesaurus in 1805, two years prior to Webster beginning the undertaking of his own dictionary. For 47 years he kept it a secret, and finally published it in 1852 at the age of 73, under the title Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and to Assist in Literary Composition. This document is archived in the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.
Roget’s Thesaurus has been in continuous print. The original manuscript included 15,000 words; the Eighth Edition in 2020 held 443,000 words. This thesaurus is organized in classes broken down into a tree with thousands of branches of “meaning clusters” or inexact synonyms that depict a concept spectrum.
Modern thesaurus instead follow an alphabetical organization, making it easier to find the desired word. They are available in traditional print format or even in an online version that is a hybrid of alphabetical and tree formats.
Just for fun, choose a classic line and challenge some friends to re-write it using a thesaurus. See what variations arise.