Saturday, 23 April 2016
Thes, thes, thesaurus!
Some type of dinosaur?
Well... in the sense, perhaps, that it's been around for a while. Over 150 years, actually...
But this is no Tyrannosaurus Rex or any of the multi-sauruses of popular horror movies! There are no claws on this thesaurus!
It's a reference book, and a very special one.
But what makes it different from a dictionary?
Well, a thesaurus helps you find the perfect word or phrase for every situation. It organises words into 6 main classes, composed of 3 that deal with the outside world and 3 that address the human mind, will and heart. For example, if you search the index for an alternative to the word swallow, you will be given a choice of the verbs absorb, drink, eat, believe, be credulous, be patient, and the nouns mouthful and bird! Each of these has its own entry with a further set of words that could help to find the exact sense you want. It could be physical (wolfing down my food) but you could equally be looking for a word to describe someone who is easily persuaded! All these meanings via a single lookup.
For anyone who writes, a good thesaurus is an invaluable tool. And the most famous one was created by Peter Mark Roget. He devised it in 1805, but it was only published in 1852 after he retired from his position as Secretary of the Royal Society and found himself "possessed of more leisure". The task of expanding his early version into a full edition took several years, and it sounds as if Roget at times despaired of finishing.
"An incessant occupation (which) imposed upon me an amount of labour very much greater than I had anticipated."
Once done, he laments that his work might fall short of the excellence he wants and begs his readers not to judge him too harshly.
Roget's thesaurus has never been out of print since, selling over 30 million copies. I used mine so much in writing The Housemaid's Daughter, that it literally fell apart. So here is my new one, crisp and ready for use, to "facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition."
Thank you, Mr Roget!