The Birth Of
by Garrett Socol
British surgeon and inventor PM Roget 47 years to
create the thesaurus. When his invention The
Hands-Free Umbrella failed, the thesaurus became
the esteemed doctor's lifelong obsession. He
lived and breathed all things lexical.
An audio tape
of Rogets inaugural creative session was
recently discovered at the British Library,
the London facility that houses more than 150
million items of international importance. The
tape was found underneath the original Magna
Carta, and according to Senior Library Manager
Abigail Cosgrove-Cumberbatch, the discovery was
nothing short of miraculous. The tape was
gathering dust for a half century, Cosgrove-Cumberbatch
reported. If I hadnt assigned my
assistant Pauline Finch-Halifax to take inventory,
we still wouldnt know about its existence,
and what a loss that would be.
is an avid activist for the English language.
At the end of the day, all we have is the
spoken word, she explained. We may
lose our homes, our husbands and our dignity, our
children may run far away and refuse to take our
phone calls, our friends may dwindle in number,
but we still hold onto our language.
Assisted by PM
Rogets devoted wife Nan (who was assigned
to write everything in longhand), the tape
documents the birth of the vital reference book
we know as the thesaurus. The following is a
We should start, of course, with the letter A.
Lets be bold and jump ahead to L in honor
of our precious little Lilly. Well get
to A later.
All right then. L for Lilly. L-A-A. Nothing.
Lab is short for laboratory.
Not a word unto itself.
its a word people use.
Well come up with synonyms when we get to laboratory.
Are you sure we shouldnt have at least one
or two suggestions for lab?
on. L-A-B-A. Nothing.
Yes, labor. Noun. Activity. Endeavor.
PM: Chore. Effort. Industry.
Industry is not a synonym for labor,
can be used as a synonym.
Not to my thinking.
I didnt ask for your thinking, only for
your writing. Labor also happens to
be a verb. To toil, strive,
Work oneself to the bone.
Work oneself to the bone is five words.
But thats what real labor is.
works. But not work oneself to the
When was the last time you worked yourself to the
Youre missing the point.
May we continue please?
We may not. There are more synonyms for labor.
Im tired of labor.
just realized something: Label
should come before labor.
Of course, how could we have overlooked label?
Label is a
NAN: Classification? I
I dont think not.
because I classify you as stubborn doesnt
mean Im assigning a label.
It can be construed as a label. Write
bored with L. Lets go to D for our darling
For Debbie. D-A-A. Nothing. D-A-B. Dab. Verb. To
No, no no. I can touch you without dabbing you. Dabbing
implies something on your fingertips like a
stinging ointment or a poisonous liquid that I
might smear on your tongue while youre
how about plaster, smudge, pat?
Yes. And flick, peck, spot, stroke.
comes after dab?
D-A-C. D-A-E-. D-A-F. Daft. Synonyms for
Also demented, cracked, deliberately annoying.
two words, dear.
Well, some people happen to be deliberately
breaking your own rule.
And Im not? How can you expect me to
live by a different set of rules? Thats
the mark of a Fascist state.
jump ahead to W in honor of our frightful little
Werewolf. A predatory mammal that
sucks the blood from its prey. You must have
scores of synonyms for that.
No, darling. Waste and want and
weakling would precede werewolf,
would. So would wallop. Verb. To
bash, belt, pummel.
is good too, along with clobber, strike, slug
in the jaw with unrestrained force.
are you trying to tell me?
perhaps youre right. Perhaps we should
include two, three and four-word phrases in
addition to singular synonyms.
glad you finally see the light.
Frankly, I dont know what took me this long.
you spent too much time crossing your ts
and dotting your is.
wrong with paying attention to detail.
Theres a limit. I can judge a man by
his is, you know. If you ask me, his
is are the windows to his soul. Soul.
Noun. Spirit. Essence. Disposition.
And what do my is tell you about my
At this point,
the audio tape goes silent for fifteen seconds. Then
theres the rustling of paper and the
commanding voice of Dr. Roget.
will begin with the letter A. A-L-O-N-E. Alone. Adjective. Solo. Single.
Unaccompanied. Ecstatic beyond measure.
continues for several hours without the
assistance of Nan.
Cosgrove-Cumberbatch has listened to the entire
tape at least two dozen times and
hasnt tired of it. Its music to
my ears, she said, dressed in a
conservative but stylish yellow pantsuit, the
kind of outfit Gwyneth Paltrow might wear to a
pelvic exam. Imagine a Shakespearean
scholar coming upon an undiscovered work by the
Bard. Thats how thrilling this is.
Dr. Roget, I salute you. When asked
about the rather contentious bickering of Dr. and
Mrs. Roget, the professorial Cosgrove-Cumberbatch
responded, Its perfectly natural for
marital partners to disagree, differ, dissent,
especially during the creative process. When the
juices are flowing, emotional abuse and physical
violence are often a natural part of the process.
goes with the territory, Finch-Halifax
positively, the vociferous Cosgrove-Cumberbatch
stated. However, Id like to dispel
the rumors about Rogets purported erectile
dysfunction. They are categorically false.
Finch-Halifax said. In fact, some experts
believe Algerian philosopher Albert Camus was the
culprit, creating the rumors, spreading them, and
deliberating trying to defile the reputation of
Dr. Roget out of unadulterated envy.
what they say: Hell hath no fury like a jealous
The audio tape
has been placed in the Sound Archive of the
British Library which also houses the 1902
recording of Sarah Bernhardt s Phedre,
the 1953 ceremony in which Elizabeth II was
crowned Queen of England, and the 1996 hit single
Wannabe by the Spice Girls.