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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Remarkable, Wonderful, Notable

A thought that crossed one's mind during a dreary lunch hour was: so who was the Mr Roget of Roget's Thesaurus anyway?

A brief online search revealed a rather impressive list of achievements.

Peter Mark Roget was born in 1779, and brought up in London's French Protestant community. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and later invented what's now known as the slide rule. He was also among the first to explain the illusion of "persistence of vision" -- which is, of course, the principle behind modern-day cinema and television.

By now, one would think the words "rest" and "laurels" would occur to the man. But no. As an article in The Independent says: "Roget was not just a doctor. He was also a polymath whose work influenced the discovery of laughing gas as an anaesthetic, the creation of the London sewage system, the invention of the slide rule and the development of the cinema industry – as well as being a chess master and an expert on bees, Dante and the kaleidoscope."

In 1848, after retiring as secretary of the Royal Society of Physicians, Roget made the cataloguing of words his full-time occupation. A first edition was published in 1852: A Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, classified and arranged so as to facilitate the expression of ideas and to assist in literary compilation. Successive editions were supervised by him, his son, his grandson, and others, and it has never since been out of print.

(The word "thesaurus", by the way, was coined by the man -- it doesn't refer to a word-obsessed dinosaur, but is from the Greek for "treasure house".)

Extraordinary. Simon Winchester, the subject for your next book is right here.


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