If you are a writer or an avid reader, chances are that you use the thesaurus quite actively. Why wouldn’t you? A thesaurus provides an exhaustive and vivid list of synonyms and can really come in handy when you are struggling to find the alternative for any particular word. A thesaurus can, in fact, help even the average person, as it will certainly enrich your vocabulary.
While we can all agree that a thesaurus is a great tool, how much do we actually know about its history? Here, we have listed 8 fascinating facts about the thesaurus that you probably never knew.
The word thesaurus literally means "storehouse" or “treasure”. It is derived from the Greek word thésauros which means a storehouse or repository for precious things or a treasure. Given that a thesaurus is like a treasure for so many readers and writers, its original meaning does have more significance than we perhaps knew.
The correct plural form of the word thesaurus isn’t widely known. However, both 'thesauri' and 'thesauruses' are the accepted plural forms of the word thesaurus. The word ‘thesauri’ might sound odd to your ears, but it isn’t incorrect, as it uses a Latin plural to the word thesaurus, also seen in other English words like alumni, octopi, and even fungi.
While we use a thesaurus in different forms today, the first thesaurus has been written by Greek historian and grammarian Herennius Philon, also known as Philo of Byblos. The book was called ‘On Synonyms’, and it is widely accepted as the first ancient thesaurus. As the title suggests, the book was a dictionary of synonyms, and it was published between the late 1st to early 2nd century and included Greek words that are similar in meaning.
Peter Mark Roget, an English physician, lexicographer, and linguist is credited to be the creator of the world’s first thesaurus - the 'Thesaurus of English' that was published in 1852. It is widely regarded as the first modern thesaurus. Back then, without the internet, the task of compiling related words and phrases was near impossible, and Roget's efforts deserve much appreciation.
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Roget retired from his regular career as a physician in 1840 to focus on developing the thesaurus. Back then, he had named the project ‘Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases’. Roget was born on January 18, 1779, and as a tribute to his contribution, his birthday is celebrated as Thesaurus Day. To this day, 'Roget’s Thesaurus' is one of the most popular English thesauruses.
You will hardly ever see a mathematician burying his nose in a thesaurus or a writer typing away on a calculator. Why would they? These are two unrelated fields, right? You would be surprised to know, however, that when Roget was compiling words for his thesaurus he also worked on the log-log slide rule.
He developed this scale in 1815, which was basically a ruler-like device that could be used to calculate roots and exponents of numbers. So even though we might not use a thesaurus for computing numbers and equations today, it is indirectly related to mathematics.
Amarasimha, a Sanskrit grammarian and poet from ancient India, had compiled a book named Amarakosha (Treasury of Amara), which is considered to be the earliest thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Amarsinha is said to have belonged to the period of King Vikramaditya of the 7th century. Interestingly, instead of merely making his thesaurus a vocabulary of Sanskrit words, he converted it into a long poem.
Furthermore, the Amarakosha is a proper tome – it contains 10,000 words, was divided into three books, for which it was called Trikanda or the "Tripartite”. This ancient Sanskrit thesaurus includes chapters like "heaven and others", "earth and others" and "common". The words used here are in the form of verses for readers to memorize easily.
Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary is known as the biggest thesaurus in the world. It is also the first comprehensive historical thesaurus for any language.
The idea for this thesaurus germinated in 1965 when Michael Samuels, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University, asked his students to create a thesaurus from entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. It was a monumental task and required years of work of classifying data, for which volunteers from different countries were recruited.
The book contains words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and also provides details about the history of certain words. This thesaurus is hence a great resource for linguists and lexicographers and is also a treasure for people interested in the history of the English language.
A lot of you might be aware of the website 'Urban Dictionary', which helps people understand the modern slang words and lingo. A similar website called 'Urban Thesaurus' (not affiliated with Urban Dictionary) provides a great list of synonyms for the latest slang words and has been created by indexing millions of different slang terms.
Do note that this thesaurus gives you mostly related slang words rather than precise synonyms. For instance, if you type in lol, you will get a list of related slang terms. In case you try typing words like 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend', you will get synonyms such as bae or papi. It is a fun and interesting website that thesaurus enthusiasts will certainly enjoy.