Z & G tumble into a thesaurus

Yesterday’s Zippy strip has Zippy and Griffy falling into a delirium of word attraction, savoring a smorgasbord of colorful synonyms, plundering the Rogetian treasures:


592 is the compendium section of Peter Mark Roget’s 1852 Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. If we’re to trust Bill Griffith, the 1st edition had numbered subsections, and 592.4 had the words thesaurus, index, archive, and idioticon (yes, idioticon; see below). The successor edition that I have (the 4th, billed as “Americanized”) has a quite different 592, focused on words for abbreviated compendia, like resumé and summary — but the volume does have the word thesaurus, in four different sections. Details below, after I give you some background.

Zippy history. Zippy has turned to the pages of Roget just once before; he was dramatically dog-tired, and found solace there:

(#2) Briefly noted in my 8/5/14 posting “Thesaurus play”

Background on the noun thesaurus. From my 5/28/19 posting “Why is he calling her his thesaurus?”, about the tenor aria “Il mio tesoro” (‘My treasure, My love’) from Mozart’s Don Giovanni; It. tesoro traces back to the same Gk. source as Engl. thesaurus.

Details from NOAD on the noun thesaurus:

ORIGIN late 16th century: via Latin from Greek thēsauros  ‘storehouse, [treasury,] treasure,‘. The original sense ‘dictionary or encyclopedia’ was narrowed to the current meaning by the publication of Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (1852).

Background on Roget’s. From my 9/27/18 posting “Mike Lynch”, with a Lynch cartoon “The Rogets On Vacation”, in a section with material on the Thesaurus and the man:

[Roget’s] thesaurus was not merely a synonyms dictionary, with groupings of words in a language, but was built on a prior conceptual analysis — an analysis of the way categories of things are organized (either in the world or in the mind, it’s not always clear which is intended) [in hierarchical, or outline, form].

… [Roget’s project] stood squarely in two related intellectual traditions: the devising of (universal) “philosophical languages” in the 17th century (George Dalgarno, John Wilkins, Gottfried Leibniz); and then the projects of the Enlightenment in the 18th, especially the French Encyclopédie, the great catalogue of all the things in the world.

The edition I have is The St. Martin’s Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases: “first Americanized edition” [St. Martin’s Press, 1965; 4th ed. in this lineage] of The Original Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases [1st ed. by Peter Mark Roget, 1852; new and enlarged ed. [2nd] by John Lewis Roget, 1879; new ed. [3rd] revised and enlarged by Samuel Romilly Roget, 1936]. (There are plenty of other revisions of Roget’s work, plus other thesauruses based on Roget’s idea but not so directly modeled on his work.)

Which brings me back to the word thesaurus in the various Roget thesauruses. In the Zippy strip, it’s in 592 compendium. In the 1965 “Americanized” edition, there’s no thesaurus in 592, but it’s listed in 87 word list, 559 dictionary, 632 collection, and 799 treasury (not all instances of the same sense, of course; 87 and 559 are the relevant sections for the language sciences.

Note on the noun idioticon. Back in the last panel of #1. In few dictionaries, but the Oxford dictionary site has :

idioticon: A dictionary or glossary of a dialect or minority language, especially one dealing with a small area.

The etymology goes back to Gk. idios ‘own, private’, a history the word shares with the modern word idiom (in its several senses).

Remarkably, modern English idiot does in fact connect historically to idioticon and idiom:

idiot ultimately < Gk. idiōtēs ‘private person, layman, ignorant person’, based on idios

The earlier ‘private person’ sense connects to idioticon and idiom. This then develops the ‘layman’ sense — referring to a non-professional, an amateur, who will tend to be ignorant of many aspects of a craft or calling. And then it’s just a step to someone who’s not just ignorant of important things, but incapable of learning then, a simpleton.

Note on the functions of a thesaurus. The thesaurus is a writer’s tool, especially useful when you think there’s a mot juste, or at least a better word than the one you’ve got, and you want something to jog your memory about it.

But thesauruses are also used clumsily, to vary vocabulary in writing just for the sake of variety; novice writers are especially given to pulling out a thesaurus and salting their prose with surprising words (overly vivid or elegant or unusual). The practice is known as thesaurisizing (or thesaurusizing or thesaurizing); see my 7/4/11 posting “Thesaurisizing” (with some links).

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