Roget's Thesaurus

On this Day:

On April 29, 1852 the 1st edition of Peter Roget’s Thesaurus was published in Great Britain.

A thesaurus (plural thesauri or thesauruses) or synonym dictionary is a reference work for finding synonyms and sometimes antonyms of words. They are often used by writers to help find the best word to express an idea:

…to find the word, or words, by which [an] idea may be most fitly and aptly expressed— Peter Mark Roget, 1852

Synonym dictionaries have a long history. The word ‘thesaurus’ was used in 1852 by Peter Mark Roget for his Roget’s Thesaurus.

While some thesauri, such as Roget’s Thesaurus, group words in a hierarchical hypernymic taxonomy of concepts, others are organized alphabetically or in some other way.

Most thesauri do not include definitions, but many dictionaries include listings of synonyms.

Some thesauri and dictionary synonym notes characterize the distinctions between similar words, with notes on their “connotations and varying shades of meaning”. Some synonym dictionaries are primarily concerned with differentiating synonyms by meaning and usage. Usage manuals such as Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage often prescribe appropriate usage of synonyms.

Writers sometimes use thesauri to avoid repetition of words — elegant variation — which is often criticized by usage manuals: “writers sometimes use them not just to vary their vocabularies but to dress them up too much”.

The word “thesaurus” comes from Latin thēsaurus, which in turn comes from Greek θησαυρός (thēsauros) ‘treasure, treasury, storehouse’. The word thēsauros is of uncertain etymology.

Until the 19th century, a thesaurus was any dictionary or encyclopedia, as in the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (Dictionary of the Latin Language, 1532), and the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (Dictionary of the Greek Language, 1572). It was Roget who introduced the meaning “collection of words arranged according to sense”, in 1852.


In antiquity, Philo of Byblos authored the first text that could now be called a thesaurus. In Sanskrit, the Amarakosha is a thesaurus in verse form, written in the 4th century.

The study of synonyms became an important theme in 18th-century philosophy, and Condillac wrote, but never published, a dictionary of synonyms.

Some early synonym dictionaries include:

  • John Wilkins, An Essay Towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language and Alphabetical Dictionary (1668) are a “regular enumeration and description of all those things and notions to which names are to be assigned”. They are not explicitly synonym dictionaries — in fact, they do not even use the word “synonym” — but they do group synonyms together.
  • Gabriel Girard, La Justesse de la langue françoise, ou les différentes significations des mots qui passent pour synonymes (1718)
  • John Trusler, The Difference between Words esteemed Synonyms, in the English Language; and the proper choice of them determined (1766)
  • Hester Lynch Piozzi, British Synonymy (1794)[14]
  • James Leslie, Dictionary of the Synonymous Words and Technical Terms in the English Language (1806)
  • George Crabb, English Synonyms Explained (1818)
  • Roget’s Thesaurus, first compiled in 1805 by Peter Mark Roget, and published in 1852, follows John Wilkins’ semantic arrangement of 1668. Unlike earlier synonym dictionaries, it does not include definitions or aim to help the user to choose among synonyms. It has been continuously in print since 1852, and remains widely used across the English-speaking world. Roget described his thesaurus in the foreword to the first edition:

It is now nearly fifty years since I first projected a system of verbal classification similar to that on which the present work is founded. Conceiving that such a compilation might help to supply my own deficiencies, I had, in the year 1805, completed a classed catalogue of words on a small scale, but on the same principle, and nearly in the same form, as the Thesaurus now published. (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

“What’s another word for Thesaurus?” – Steven Wright

Second, a Song:

According to Jaloopy & Potato on, Weird Al Yankovic hates bad grammar.  They have complied a few examples of him complaining about bad grammar and correcting grammar, including a few clips of Weird Al’s Word Crimes from Mandatory Fun.  Here is their clip of Weird Al being a Grammar Nerd. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“My guilty pleasure at the end of the day is an old thesaurus. I know that can lead to overwriting, but if words such as lambent, pyretic and boscy exist, how sad they should stay recondite.” – Bettany Hughes

Shameless Plug: 

Gerry Wahl, B Comm UBC (Actuarial Science), CPA (BC), MBA, Managing Director of The PensionAdvisor, writes a monthly newsletter on a variety of tax and retirement information. His website provides information about pensions and taxation for individuals at You can subscribe to his newsletter on the website or by emailing Gerry at

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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