Who the heck was Roget?

sapphire-gemstoneBlue is never just blue – Blue can be azure, cerulean, cobalt, or sapphire.

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

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 beloved 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 compilation of which had been an avocation since 1805. Its first printed edition, in 1852Roget, 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 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 a few friends and writers say about the thesaurus

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.”

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 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 Wiktionary (Wiki also has a neat rhymes feature).  DSC02016

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.)

Some word-find sources


Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com



Synonym Finder

Visual Thesaurus

Sources used for this article  


Brainy Quote

Quote Garden


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


Filed under Special Events, Words & Vocabulary

16 responses to “Who the heck was Roget?

  1. Oh the essential tools of our trade!
    Very cool. Roget was a blessing for us all.
    Thank you for this week on words, Karen. Happy Bunny Day.

    • I think Stephen King said something negative about using a thesaurus, but I disagree…sometimes using Roget’s book, I find just the right word.

      • Exactly. It can lead to that word that’s on the tip of your tongue but ellusive for the moment. And it sparks the imagination, pushes us outside our verbal comfort zone. Of course, the words have to fit the voice, otherwise it just sounds like someone traded Roget for personal craft and talent.

  2. The thesaurus is a wondrous thing indeed. I love these resources too.

  3. Thanks for the background on Roget. I use the thesaurus frequently especially when assiting people to write their resumes. In my creative writing it spurs my imagination and often changes the way the story is going (for the better) I found a great resource called “Children’s Writer’s Word Book” which is an excellent thersaurus geared for children divided into grades/ages. It has been such a help to me when I want to use a word but am not sure if it is suitable for the age group I am writing for. Another great rsource is ‘The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression” by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi.

  4. I loved learning about the creator of one of my favorite resources. I often use a hard copy but also use the online version built into Word.

    I’d like to recommend another word-related non-fiction book called The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Fascinating!

  5. I am a bit of a list maker myself, so I could understand Roget’s need to do so and make it into a thesaurus. Thanks Darlene and Elizabeth for these additional resources.

  6. Fascinating background of Roget…thanks for sharing it with us, Karen!

  7. Audrey Keith

    Any book on words is great, but I think The SYNONYM FINDER is better.

  8. I do not have The Synonym Finder – will have to add that to my list of reference books to buy. Thanks for the tip, Audrey!

  9. Who knew? I didn’t, and I so enjoyed reading about Roget. He certainly makes my writing life easier. I do what Elizabeth mentioned, above, use the online version built into Word, but I also own several hardbound Thesaurus(es) (hmm, that’s not easy to do…).

  10. Pingback: New Years Resolutions — Writing Daily | In my anguish…

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