ImageSince the cat's out of the bag that I'm a class-A nerd, I'm just gonna come out and admit that I've had a long and loving relationship with my thesaurus.  It's Roget's International Thesaurus, fourth edition. I stole it when I left my reference-publishing job in May of 1994. It served me well throughout that gig, and it's been by my side ever since.

It's a book, which means I have to open it when I want to use it, flip to the index in back to find the word I need a synonym for, flip to the body to find the synonyms for that word, hold my place on that page, flip back to the index for a word that's related to the first word, flip back to the body for synonyms for that word — you get the picture. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it.

Yes, there is a thesaurus in my word-processing software, but it's risibly feeble. And I could surf the various Net thesauri, but none of them, including the online version of Roget's, do it for me.

Maybe it's the way the spine of my purloined Roget's fits in my palm; maybe it's the battered red-and-black cover; maybe it's the way it lists 10 bounteous entries for plurality and 12 for numerousness.

Not that I'd actually use the word numerousness — even I have my limits. But check out numerousness entry #9:

".9 teeming, swarming, crowding, thronging, overflowing, bursting, crawling, alive with, populous, prolific, proliferating, crowded, packed, jammed, jam-packed [informal], like sardines in a can [informal], thronged, studded, bristling, rife, lavish, prodigal, superabundant, profuse, in profusion, thick, thick with, thick-coming, thick as hail or flies; 'thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks in Vallombrose' [Milton]."

Tempted as I may be, I don't think I'd go so far as to use thick-coming either, but I do love teeming and bursting and rife and alive with.

Sometimes you're just looking for another word for manyRoget's thus offers a useful contribution to your craft. But there are times when you must have just the right word, the word for which there is no substitute, the word that makes you swoon — that's when Roget's becomes an attendant to art.

To wit: incandescent. First I went to shining, where I found options for gorgeous, illustrious and luminous. I chose
There's nothing more satisfying to this copywriter than responding to a client's vocabulary needs with 30 or 40 options.
luminous, which led me to the 30th entry under light (there are 42), which yielded incandescent, as well as lustrous, gleaming, glowing and rutilant. I also couldn't help noticing, in some of the other light entries, pellucid, resplendent, lambent, dazzling and refulgent. But incandescent — that was the one.

I've spent more time than I care to relate marveling at such index inclusions as animal worship, barfy, beard the lion in his den, Colonel Blimp, dryasdust, gay deceiver, Jupiter Pluvius, phew!, ram down one's throat, Semitic deities, tomtit, weak sister and zambo — who's looking up this stuff?

Inarguably, Roget's is a gold mine and, in fact, Roget borrowed the word thesaurus from the Greek thEsauros, which means treasury.

Who was this Roget anyway? Some facts (that I happen to find fun but which are in no way definitive):
  • His full name was Peter Mark Roget.
  • He was English.
  • He lived from 1779 to 1869.
  • He graduated from medical school at 19.
  • He was a foremost researcher into the effects of laughing gas.
  • In 1838 he published a two-volume work on phrenology.
  • He was a founder of the Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge.
  • He issued a report, the first of its kind, graphically documenting the simultaneous use of the Thames for sewage disposal and drinking water.
  • In 1852, 12 years after his retirement, he published the first edition of his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition, which he'd been compiling since 1805.
And facilitate it has. There's nothing more satisfying to this copywriter than responding to a client's vocabulary needs with 30 or 40 options.

And to think, Roget wrote in the preface to the first edition of his masterwork: " ... I am fully aware of its numerous deficiencies and imperfections, and of its falling far short of the degree of excellence that might be attained."

All of our work should fall so far short.

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Next time: synonyms for said.