10 December 2012

Word books

Much as I love dictionaries, I love a thesaurus better. Not a thesaurus in dictionary format - but a real thesaurus, arranged in categories, the way Roget did it nearly 200 years ago (compiled in 1805 and published in 1852).  "Proper" thesauruses are a little more trouble to use, because you have to go to the index first - and choose which definition of the word you are actually looking for a synonym for - but then you have similar concepts right there at hand, so that you can choose exactly the right word.

I found one such, published in 1962 (which is also quite a while ago now!) recently in an Oxfam bookshop - what a bargain for £2.49, hardback and all. My other version, published in the 1930s and updated by the grandson of Roget, has an interesting page layout, in which pairs of words (opposites) start at the same point on the page - for instance, obstinacy and tergiversation; perspicuity and obscurity; conciseness and diffuseness -



Via a little research on the idea of a thesaurus (the word comes from the Greek, meaning "treasure store"),  I found the Historical Thesaurus of English project, which presents the vocabulary of English from Old English to the present arranged in detailed semantic categories. It is based on the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and was published in two volumes as the Historical Thesaurus of the OED by Oxford University Press in 2009. It offers "a complete sense inventory for English".

Here is an overview of the classification:

1. The External World
01. The world


01.01. The earth

01.02. Life

01.03. Physical sensibility

01.04. Matter

01.05. Existence in time and space

01.06. Relative properties

01.07. The supernatural

2. The Mental World
02. The mind


02.01. Mental capacity

02.02. Emotion

02.03. Philosophy

02.04. Aesthetics

02.05. Will/faculty of will

02.06. Refusal/denial

02.07. Having/possession

02.08. Language

3. The Social World
03. Society


03.01. Society/the community

03.02. Inhabiting/dwelling

03.03. Armed hostility

03.04. Authority

03.05. Morality

03.06. Education

03.07. Faith

03.08. Communication

03.09. Travel/travelling

03.10. Occupation/work
03.11. Leisure

See a sample page - from the Emotions section, lovers and loving, here. Once, an elegant love letter was called a "nectar epistle" ... and whatever happened to "kissing kind" - meaning, being kind/friendly enough to receive a kiss -?

The HTOED usefully also gives definitions of words. It runs to 4,000 pages - and is incorporated into the OED online version.

1 comment:

Connie Rose said...

Roget's is my favorite book, as well. And while I prefer the original format, and have one of those I use often, I did pick up a 1936 edition of the Thesaurus Dictionary recently, along with a bunch of other books, in a buck-a-bag sale during the summer.