In 1852, the first modern thesaurus was published. This innovative catalog of words was titled Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases.  Meticulously compiled by Peter Mark Roget, a British Renaissance man with a peculiar affinity for optical illusions and list- making, the first thesaurus instantly spread through the libraries of readers and thinkers of the late nineteenth century. It may be true that Peter Mark Roget’s passion project stemmed from his struggle with depression and later, this project became his coping mechanism.  At the time of his death, his work had twenty-eight printings and continued to expand and evolve by contributions from son.  

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
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The thesaurus we know today is a descendant of many other thesauri (that’s the plural of thesaurus). All were essentially similar in function: they were compilations of connected words or phrases. In sixteenth century France, your average French scholar would be reading Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. This early thesaurus was a dictionary that noted of similar Latin words that appeared in texts. Even further back in history, a Greek historian and grammarian wrote On Synonyms. This is widely considered the first ancient thesaurus, in which the author documented Greek words with related meanings. In fact, thesaurus comes from a Greek root word meaning “storehouse” or “treasure.”, In other words, a thesaurus is a treasure trove of words and their related siblings.   

On January 18, Roget’s birthday, we celebrate his achievements by showing appreciation for his commercially successful and widely used thesaurus. Have you stopped to think about your relationship with your thesaurus? How often do you use one and for what purpose? Thesauri are great for kids by helping build their vocabularies. They can help adults by expanding their vocabulary and to increase their breadth and clarity in writing. A thesaurus is extremely useful for anyone who wants to create compelling prose. Writing to engage and entertain the reader requires an upgraded composition which is possible to achieve by tapping into the unlimited wealth of knowledge stored in a thesaurus. Rhetoric and poems, speeches and essays, and any form of writing relies on new words constantly being formed.  Essentially, a thesaurus helps us tell our stories, and it helps us tell them better. Now that’s a good reason to pay a visit to your local thesaurus the next time you need a boost in language.

But a thesaurus isn’t all work and no play. Here is a list of fun things you can also do with your thesaurus, or use to encourage young people to use a thesaurus: Y

• Take a famous song and change the lyrics using a thesaurus

• Instead of “Like a Rolling Stone,”, what if it said, “Like a Rotating Rock”?.

• Use it for a fun family game night 

• Write a word on the card and three related words on the back. Draw a random card and say the three related words out loud. The first person to guess the original word wins. 

Happy National Thesaurus Day and happy word finding!

The Right Word Roget and His Thesaurus book for children

The Right Word

Roget and His Thesaurus

Written by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Ages 7 and up


ISBN: 978-0-8028-5385-1

Awards for The Right Word include:

  • ALA 2015 Caldecott Honor
  • ALA 2015 Sibert Medal
  • NCTE 2015 Orbis Pictus Honor
  • ALA 2015 Notable Children’s Books

For a full list of this book’s awards, check out this page on the Eerdmans website.

Kirkus prize
Junior Library Guild Selection
National Counsil of Teachers of English

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