Today is the Peter Mark Roget’s birthday; he was the British lexicographer and physician who penned the Roget’s Thesaurus. To commemorate the occasion, the random holidays thinker-uppers deemed January 18th “Thesaurus Day.” And since I cannot resist a dorky, word-related holiday, I’m celebrating too.
I’ve owned many books over the years, but I vividly recall my paperback thesaurus. It was thick and dog-eared, and stayed with me through college, until the internet rendered it unnecessary.
Fun Facts for Thesaurus Day
1. I learned the word plethora from my thesaurus, and it has been my favorite word ever since. If I were a word, I would be plethora.
Merriam-Webster cites the definition of plethora as “a bodily condition characterized by an excess of blood and marked by turgescence and a florid complexion.”
That’s gross. I don’t even know what turgescence means but it sounds disgusting.
M.W. also cites the more commonly used definition: “a very large amount or number : an amount that is much greater than what is necessary.”
2. Roget’s Thesaurus was first published 165 years ago, in 1852. That is also the year Daniel Webster died, which would be meaningful if you didn’t know your Websters and thought Daniel invented the dictionary. Alas, that was Noah Webster’s claim to fame. Daniel Webster was an American statesman whose mug adorned fourteen different postage stamps.
3. Roget’s Thesaurus has never been out of print. Currently, there are 55 versions available on Amazon. Webster’s Thesaurus is ranked higher, though, and it is less expensive.
4. The plural of thesaurus is thesauri. Seriously.
5. Roget was a meticulous list maker, and his thesaurus was a cumulation of this interest. (source)
Bigger isn’t always better
Using a thesaurus is easy; using it successfully is a bit more difficult. The writer cannot simply substitute small words for big words, particularly if those big words are clearly not part of the writer’s usual vocabulary.
When I was a college admissions counselor, I read a plethora of application essays. While the essay should be a strong writing sample, it should also sound as if the student actually wrote it.
Example: Throughout my high school career, I have been involved in numerous activities. The most meaningful experience for me, however, was being a part of the Student Government.
That’s a perfectly fine sentence. The following sentence is overkill and clearly the result of excessive thesaurus use:
Throughout my high school pilgrimage, I have been connected to copious activities. The most consequential experience for me, however, was being a sector of the pupil politics.
(That’s “pop quiz” in thesaurized speak.)
Just because you can substitute words doesn’t mean you should, as I will now demonstrate.
In 2014, The Hub celebrated Thesaurus Day by swapping words in popular YA book titles, and I’m going to play a similar game with you. Can you decipher the real titles of these books? Let me know how you do, but don’t share your answers so others can play!
Absent with the Breeze
The Brightest Star Ascends Too
The Commander of the Hoops
Ego and Bigotry
Vitality of Pastry
UPDATE: The answers can be found HERE.