History of Roget's International Thesaurus Part 3

About the major reference book Roget's International Thesaurus, how the modern operation runs, trivia, and examples.


Modern Operation: For the preparation of the fourth edition (1977), editors scoured painstakingly through the third, deleting dead wood wherever they found it and adding such new terms and phrases as had been combed from recent dictionaries and glossaries. The index, so crucial to a nonalphabetical work, was for the first time extracted by computer, which can almost entirely eliminate typographical errors.

Size and Distribution of Sales: Each edition sells in the millions.

Examples of Typical Material:


.1 intellectual, intellect, intellectualist, literate, member of the intelligentsia, white-collar intellectual; brainworker, thinker; Brahmin, mandarin, egghead [slang]; highbrow [informal]; wise man.


.5 mediocrity, second-rater, third-rater, fourth-rater, nothing or nobody special, no prize, not much of a bargain, small potatoes or small beer [both slang]; tin-horn [slang]; nonentity; middle class, middle order or orders, bourgeoisie, burgherdom; suburbia; Middle America, silent majority.

Unusual Facts about It: Roget's Thesaurus started as a 100-page penny notebook containing some 15,000 words; the fourth edition of the International contains more than 250,000 words and phrases. Special lists include such fascinating miscellany as 45 shades of purple, 36 kinds of rubber, 35 different electronic computers, 25 varieties of shovels and 48 of saws, 24 kinds of fireworks, 51 types of hormones, well over 200 varieties of cheese, 80 kinds of rockets and missiles, 83 categories of mixed drinks, 24 species of algae and 21 of fungi, 28 varieties of worms, 21 breeds of chickens and 16 of swine, 73 card games, 57 types of armor, and 156 different battles in 49 separate wars.

Also included are succinct quotations on various topics as, for example, on history: "a set of lies agreed upon" (Napoleon), "a cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of man" (Shelley), "merely gossip" (Oscar Wilde); on love: "an insatiate thirst of enjoying a greedily desired object" (Montaigne), "tyrant sparing none" (Corneille), "a spiritual coupling of two souls" (Ben Jonson); or on man: "a god in ruins" (Emerson), "this quintessence of dust" (Shake-speare), "the only animal that blushes. Or needs to" (Mark Twain).

Apparently words, like names, go in and out of fashion. The word sinner, prominent in the edition of 1852, is missing entirely from the present work, while sex, explored here at length, was not to be found anywhere in Roget's original.

Future Plans: Under Peter Mark Roget's original format, ever to update and improve.

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