History of Roget's International Thesaurus Part 2

About the major reference book Roget's International Thesaurus, history of the publishing and organization.


Hardly a year passed but saw a new edition, and by the time of Roget's death (that is, his "decease, dissolution, demise, departure, expiration, termination," etc.) at the age of 90, he had personally supervised 25 new editions and printings through the press. Apparently self-perpetuating, the Thesaurus became a family concern; after Roget's death, his son John took it over for 40 years, and in turn John's son, Samuel Romilly Roget, served as editor. Only for the last quarter of a century has Roget's Thesaurus (British edition) been edited by other than a Roget.

The American market was not long in getting into the act. Only two years after the first British publication, an American version appeared, edited by Rev. Barnas Sears, who personally bowdlerized the book of what he termed "vulgar words and phrases." Only after American reviewers made great sport of his censorship were such objectionable phrases as "fiddle-faddle," "a wild-goose chase," and "a cock-and-bull story" reinstated.

In the 1880s Thomas Y. Crowell and Company brought out its first American edition (actually a copy of the 1879 British edition), but in 1911 the first truly American Thesaurus (edited by American lexicographer C.O. Sylvester Mawson) appeared. In 1922 Crowell's American edition went international (with the inclusion of many non-English words and phrases) as Roget's International Thesaurus. Second, third, and fourth editions of the International appeared in 1946, 1962, and 1977, respectively. The original British publishing house of Longmans, Green still produces The Original Roget's Thesaurus in Great Britain, and (just to confuse the issue further) a version of this last with Americanized spelling is generally available in the U.S. Nor can one ignore The Doubleday Roget's Thesaurus in Dictionary Form or Putnam's New Roget's Thesaurus in Dictionary Form. Or, for that matter, Merriam-Webster's non-Roget Collegiate Thesaurus. They all knew a treasure when they saw one.

Words in Roget's International Thesaurus are cataloged according to meaning so that the user can start with nothing more than a general idea and from that find the exact word or phrase to express his or or her thought. By looking up in the index a word at least remotely related to a particular idea, one can turn immediately to the proper category to discover in one place all words germane to that idea, right down to the subtlest shades of meaning. Antonyms of any category of words are located in an adjacent category. Slang, scientific terms, and foreign words are also included, as are extensive lists of plants, animals, tools, vehicles, etc.

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