Who the heck was Roget anyway?

Red is not simply red – Red is carmine, burgundy, garnet, rosy, scarlet, or roseate.

Blue is never just blue – Blue is azure, cerulean, cobalt, or sapphire.

Green is not only green – Green should be beryl, chartreuse, forest, olive, or viridian.

I got to thinking, who the heck was Roget anyway?

Peter Mark Roget was born in London in 1779 and went on to become a physician, natural theologian, and lexicographer (author or editor of a dictionary). And of course, Roget is best known for publishing The Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, aka Roget’s Thesaurus, in 1852.

Obsessive list-making – Roget was the son of a Swiss clergyman. He was apparently obsessed with list-making (I developed the same obsession from my Welsh-Irish mother) and suffered with depression most of his life. Roget’s father died young, his wife died young, and his Uncle Samuel committed suicide right in front of him. His obsessive list-making seemed to be a coping mechanism and took hold of him by the time he was just 8 years old. Roget studied medicine in Edinburgh.

From Wikipedia – “Roget retired from professional life in 1840 and about 1848 began preparing for publication the one work that was to perpetuate his memory. This was the catalogue of words organized by their meanings, the of which had been an avocation since 1805. Its first printed edition, in 1852, was called Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.”

Roget died in September of 1869.

The wonderful thesaurus – The thesaurus is a wondrous thing. Whether you use the sideline thesaurus on Word, a printed tome, or an online connection, one simple word can lead you to intricate synonyms.

I know how I use a thesaurus – frequently. But I wondered, “How do others use one?” What if you can’t find just the right word as you are working on the novel or a letter to your congressman or a passage on your resume? Do you stop and think about the right word? Do you break out the thesaurus or do you just keep typing?

What other writers use –

Judy Ann Lashinski Davis, author of Red Fox Woman and blogger at A Writer’s Revelations, uses Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, and she’s got it “right at my elbow.”

Krissy Brady is busy at her blog and at Misfits and Mascara – Krissy has a print thesaurus but she only uses it for her poetry. “If I can’t think of the right word, I write down a filler word, underline it, and patiently wait for what I hope to be a creative epiphany.”

Chris Eboch of the Write Like a Pro! blog and action and adventure books for children like The Eyes of Pharaoh and The Well of Sacrifice, says she uses the thesaurus option at Dictionary.com so often that she has it bookmarked.

Susannah Friis, writer and blogger at Personally Speaking and The Writerly Way – “I can’t move on until I find the right word.” Susannah uses the dictionary and thesaurus features on her Mac. She also uses http://en.wiktionary.org (Wiki also has a neat rhymes feature).

Valerie P. Chandler blogs at V. P. Chandler – Author, and she recommends the Visual Thesaurus. This site is great if you like to see a visual map of any word and related words. You are allowed a trial version but need to sign up and pay to use it long-term. Caution – do not use this application if you take mind-altering drugs. It’s far out, man.

Do you use a thesaurus or other word-find site?


Some word-find sources









 “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. –W. H. Auden

“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?” ~Winnie the Pooh

Additional Sources –


Brainy Quote

Quote Garden





Filed under Words & Vocabulary

16 responses to “Who the heck was Roget anyway?

  1. I’ve been in love with thesauri for years–more often than not for being wonderful jumping-off points for verbal free association. I have 5 different hardbound and have played with 3 or 4 on-line. The latter tend to fall short for my needs–though they do save trees and can more rapidly reflect the evolution of the language. Visual thesaurus is fun but limited. Oxford Writer’s Thesaurus is a classic, as is Roget (though thankfully his structure has been tinkered with over the years…)…imho.

  2. Oh, Shawn – I agree on Roget’s structure! It sort of stinks. I much prefer a dictionary-like list.

  3. I have a tattered print edition and use some of the online versions. I’ll have to check out those resources used by others, too. Valerie’s Visual Thesaurus looks very interesting.

  4. Mostly I use thesaurus.com, but I do have a fattie Roget hardcover I use as well. Sometimes the built-in one in WordPerfect.

    Sounds like the original Peter Roget may have been OCPD (not be confused with OCD) a mental disorder characterized by list-making, obsession with order… (Think Felix Unger from The Odd Couple or Bree Walker from Desperate Housewives.)

    Always thought Roget an incredibly sexy name – plan to use it for a character sometime. Or perhaps a cat. Could have one Roget and another one Webster.

  5. Fantastic post. I am ashamed to say that while I love my Roget’s Thesaurus, I have never once given any thought to the man behind it! I really enjoyed the info you gave, Karen 🙂
    And I kinda like the style he wrote it in – it’s all nice and maze-y, like going on a word chase.

  6. I never gave Roget much thought either until I started to write this post.

  7. Karen, first of all, I enjoyed visiting the blogs that you featured in your post. My “thesaurus” has been the first (1969) edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. All these years its feature, “See synonyms at ——-” has taken me on many searches to find simliar meanings of words.

  8. I’m glad you enjoyed the blogs – I’m happy to introduce them to you. Isn’t it interesting all the different resources we all have?

  9. I use Roget, and a word-find site. Was interested in Stacy’s mention of Valerie’s Visual Thesaurus — that sound very interesting. Karen you write such interesting posts.

  10. Awesome post Karen! I’m going to have to try the synonym sites you’ve mentioned–I think they will really come in handy for a couple of projects I’m working on! 🙂

  11. Can’t wait to explore these resources, Karen. I use the MS Word thesaurus all the time (and sometimes a pocket thesaurus) but now that I’m writing more regularly, I’m going to invest in a good one to go next to my dictionary and my style books.

    I loved learning about Roget. If you haven’t read it, you’d enjoy THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN by Simon Winchester (Amazon: http://amzn.to/vh41af) about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1800s…fascinating.

  12. Murder, insanity and the making of the dictionary! Sounds fascinating. I’ll have to add this to my list of books to buy.

  13. I rarely use one, but I do sometimes right click on a word and see what other choices there are, or if I want to make sure I’m conveying the right thing with a word I am unsure I want to use.

    What a novel his life would make! Poor sweet man.

  14. I didn’t know about that right-click thingie! Thanks for that. I always opened Review, then Thesaurus. Cool.

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