History of Roget's Thesaurus

About the history of of Roget's Thesaurus, synonyms of English words, biography and information.


Roget's Thesaurus. "A collection of English words and phrases arranged according to the ideas they express, rather than in alphabetical order, published in 1852 by the English physician and lecturer Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), and offered 'to facilitate the expression of ideas and to assist in literary composition.'

"As Roget noted in the introduction to the 1st edition of the Thesaurus, his was not the 1st attempt at such a compilation. The earliest, dating from about the 10th century, is the Amera Cosha, or Vocabulary of the Sanskrit Language (a translation was published in 1808), somewhat confused but 'exhibiting a remarkable effort at analysis at so remote a period of Indian literature.' A more orderly classification, in Roget's opinion, was to be found in the 17th-century work of Bishop John Wilkins, An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language; but the schema of symbols that accompanied it was too complicated and artificial to be useful. The same criticism applied to an anonymous French work that appeared in 1797.

"In his own system Roget took the classifications of natural history as his guiding principle. Words were divided into categories in the same way that plants and animals had been divided into families. As genus branched off into related but differing species, so the meanings of words shaded into other meanings related but not the same. A particular innovation was the inclusion of phrases synonymous with single words for which no individual or one-word synonyms existed.

"This ambitious work, which might have been a lifetime project for another man, was merely the capstone of Roget's long and versatile career. He was born in London of a Swiss father and an English mother. A graduate of Edinburgh Medical School at 19, he spent the next 40 years tutoring, practicing medicine, and lecturing, 1st on animal physiology, then on the theory and practice of medicine. He was one of the founders of the Manchester Medical School and the 1st to hold the Fullerian professorship of physiology at the Royal Institution. He wrote treatises on electricity, galvanism, and electromagnetism; he tried to make a calculating machine; he devised a successful slide rule for performing mathematical operations of involution (raising a number to any power) and evolution (extracting any root of a number); and besides designing a pocket chessboard, found the 1st complete solution to the knight's move--to start on a given square, to visit every square once only, and to end on a given square of a different color."

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