Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of ideas and to Assist in Literary Composition, by Peter Mark Roget, M.D., F.R.S.
He had it in college. It’s old and worn. It doesn’t have a copyright date or an ISBN number. I’ve looked on the rare book market. It’s not worth much. It’s priceless to me.
He gave it to me when I was in high school. He said something akin to “You probably don’t want this, you could get a new one, but maybe you’d like it, etc.” I’m the youngest of four, so at the time I was surprised it hadn’t been snarfed up by one of my siblings. They always got the good stuff.
It isn’t set up like a contemporary thesaurus. Rather than look up the word to find its synonyms, you look up the word in an index. The index, which takes up half of the book, identifies the root. Then, you look up the root. So if I look up the word ask, the root is inquiry, entry 461. Instead of a few options, I get a full page of them. Most, I’d never use. Some are just plain entertaining. It’s like going to the library to find a book, and getting lost in all of the books around it.
My Dad started out as a writer, a journalist who wanted to run a small local paper. Life and children and everything else intervened and he ended up in public relations writing for corporations, and then moved into sales. Even so, he maintained his membership in the press club for years. I could hear him in the basement at night, typing away on an old Royal typewriter, while I spent hours perusing the thesaurus’ lists like a bag of Jelly Bellies, savoring the flavor of each word.
When I set off for college I took both the typewriter and the thesaurus with me. I majored in business, but I wonder if he knew, at some level, I would be a writer someday. The typewriter finally bit the dust, which was fine, since the keys stuck and jumped and it didn’t have a correction feature. It was getting hard to find the right kind of cloth ribbon, and an electric would be so much faster and easier to use. The thesaurus, I kept.
It sits on my desk next to Elements of Style and Bird by Bird. Sometimes I still like to read through the lists of words. I always find one that tickles my fancy. Today’s is fisticuffs, although swinish is a close second.
I called my dad to wish him a happy father’s day, and we talked about my friend whose mother died recently, not long after her father had passed. My Dad said that sometimes it’s like that for married couples. I told him he had to keep on truckin’ then, because if he died, surely Mom would pass on without getting everything in the garage cleared out. She’d nag him from heaven for an eternity.
My dad has a hard time throwing things out. His parents both died when he was young and doesn’t have any of their belongings. “I don’t know what my father loved,” he said. “I wish I knew more about him, knew what mattered to him.”
Don’t worry, Dad. I know what you love. Writing is its own root, and the list is endless.