Posts Tagged ‘Peter Roget’

Adjective Orgy

Posted in General, On This Day on January 18th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 11 Comments

January 18th

Roget's hand finishedOn this day in 1779, Peter Roget was born/spawned/ejected. In the course of his life/existence/happening, Roget distinguished himself as a scholar and inventor/polymath man/Victorian know-it-all. A doctor by profession, he wrote a scientific study on tuberculosis/consumption/how to kill a Bronte. As a mathematician, he invented the logarithmic slide rule/mechanical analog computer/nerd sword. Today, however, we best know him for his hobby/avocation/obsessive compulsive disorder. He/Dr. Roget/Pedantic Pete liked to make lists.

One of his favorite diversions was categorizing words by their synonyms. The English language certainly could keep him busy, being a linguistic hodgepodge of barbaric German, Norwegian-accented French, second-hand Greek, and whatever the Empire chose to plagiarize from the natives. (The Hindi word veranda does sounds more charming than the Middle English porch or its pompous Latin forebear portico). In fact, the English language had become an empire in itself–with an unrivalled vocabulary. It had twice as many words as German; of course, each German word was three longer than its English equivalent. (And the disparity continues today; there now are some 500,000 words in English, while only 180,000 in German.)

Upon his retirement in 1840, Dr. Roget dedicated himself to compilating his lexicon/trivia/idiosyncracies. He called his work a thesaurus which in Greek means either treasury or god lizard. (His lists evidently did not include embarrassing Greek homophones.) His masterpiece was finally published in 1852 under the title “Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.” For some reason–such as a shorter lifespan in the 19th century–readers preferred to call the book “Roget’s Thesaurus”.

And where would we modern writers be without Roget’s guide/terminology/onomasticon/cheat notes?