ROGET’S THESAURUS

A classical notion in investigating lexical structure is the semantic field – a named area of meaning in which words interrelate and define each other in specific ways. There are semantic fields titled Hospital, Clothes, Kitchen, House, Household Appliances, Meals, Industry, Agriculture, Plants, Vehicles, Color, Office, Education, Positive Feeling, Negative Feelings, etc., etc. My dissertation for the academic degree of Kandidat (the first doctoral degree) dealt with the investigation of the semantic field Faith in the English language of the 16th-18th centuries. That was the period of Renaissance, religious wars and Enlightenment in Britain, and the notion of faith underwent considerable changes in the “climate of ideas”, which impacted the English vocabulary and its usage.

The notion of semantic fields suggests that there may be other possible approaches to dictionary-making than the traditional one using alphabetical order. The thesaurus is such an alternative. Thesauri are based on grouping words thematically, and the first dictionary of this kind was Roget’s Thesaurus published in 1852. It divides the word-stock into six main areas: abstract relations, space, the material world, the intellect, volition and moral powers. Each area is then progressively sub-classified, giving a total of about 1,000 semantic categories.

Peter Mark Roget (the author’s full name) assumed that his readers would be able to find their way through the Thesaurus by working intuitively down through his classification. It may be a fruitful way, but rather time-consuming. Myself, I go to the alphabetical index first, find the word I need and then go to the respective semantic field. I think this is the way into the work which most people use.

The users of Roget’s dictionary are supposed to know the language quite well before they open it: the Thesaurus does not provide definitions, it says nothing about the stylistic levels at which the words are used, formal and informal items rub shoulders, as do items belonging to technical, professional, domestic and other varieties. Nowadays, the dictionary exists in its online version too ( http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10681/10681-h-body.htm ). There are a number of very good “non-Roget” thesauri ( http://www.freethesaurus.com/, http://www.thesaurus.com/ ). But for me there’s nothing like a “paper Roget.” I have three of them – of different years of edition. My favorite is the Pocket Thesaurus which has the same format as the famous original Roget’s Thesaurus. This handy treasure house of words and phrases is a perfect companion. I carry it in my pocket and need never again struggle to find the word I want.

The method I like, though, is to open the Thesaurus at random, read any head word, immediately close the dictionary on my finger and try to call to mind as many words of this group as I can. Afterwards I go to that headword again and see how many words I haven’t remembered. There’s always something to replenish my active vocabulary with. This morning I was going through the group WORK. Enjoy:

work, labor, toil, drudge, fag, grind, slog, sweat, blood, pull, haul, tug, shove, hump, heave, dig, spade, lumber, set about, set to, keep at it, plod, persevere, work hard, work overtime, moonlight, work double shift, slave, work like a galley slave, work like a horse, work like a Trojan, work oneself to death, overdo it, minister to, put to work, overwork, task, tax, fatigue, ply, wield, handle, exert, exercise, practice, lay one’s hands on, make the most of, strike a blow, lift a finger, put oneself in motion…

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