Peter Mark Roget – a tribute by an inveterate Indian admirer

In Uncategorized by Arvind KumarLeave a Comment

On his birthday (18 Jan) a tribute by an inveterate Indian admirer

Peter Mark Roget

left an indelible mark on the world of words

By Arvind Kumar

Author of Samantar Kosh Hindi Thesaurus and The Penguin English-Hindi/Hindi-English Thesaurus and Dictionary and Editor online biligual thesaurus



Peter Mark Roget, his lists, and his Thesaurus. In some parts of the world, such as the UK, the word Roget is protected by copyright laws. In USA, the use of "Roget" in a thesaurus title may not indicate any relationship to Dr. Roget - it is seen as a generic thesaurus name, like "Webster" for dictionaries.

(a photo montage)




 first came to know of Roget on a sultry April day in 1952, a hundred years after the publication of his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition. Aged 22, as a budding journalist, I was always in need of  more optional words for an English expression. A friend introduced me to his thesaurus. I fell in love with it at first sight. To me, as to all who use it, the book is amazing, astonishing, bedazzling, eye-popping, fantastic, miraculous, out of this world, stupendous, wonderful. The sultriness of the day evaporated. My mind was cooled. I was fascinated, bewitched, charmed, obsessed, possessed, enchanted, spellbound and got addicted to it to a fault. It became my constant companion and dear friend. It accompanied me everywhere, on a bus, in a cinema hall, in the coffee house. Every now and then I would open it at randomly on any page, read and re-read its words. I would keep on hopping from one concept to another – going up and down its pages. I started to cherish the wish that Hindi too has a book like this. The wish was to become a resolve two decades later (1973). After another two decades of work, it became my Samantar Kosh (December 1996). Ten years later, I was the proud author of India’s first-ever English-Hindi/Hindi-English Thesaurus and Dictionary. All due to my first encounter with Roget.

Born on 18 January 1779, Roget lived ninety fruitful years till his death on 12 September 1869. He was many things in his life and distinguished himself in all he did. Educated at University of Edinburgh, by occupation he was a physician. Two centuries after him, today the world knows him as the man who gave it Roget's Thesaurus.

Roget faced many overwhelming heartbreaks in his life. His father, a pastor, Jean Roget died of tuberculosis when he was four, mother Catherine Roget née Romilly became paranoiac, his sister had mental breakdowns, wife Mary Taylor suffered from cancer and left him within seven years of marriage, much-beloved maternal uncle, his surrogate father, Samuel Romilly slit his own throat, even as Roget fought to take the knife from him. It is said all his life’s work arose partly from an effort to battle depression caused by these sad events. He got obsessed with and submerged himself in work. Joshua Kendall in his biography of Roget (The Man Who Made Lists), says that the Thesaurus did much more for Roget than for its millions of users across the centuries. The ultimate book of lists became his salvation and “it enabled Roget to live a vibrant life in the face of overwhelming loss, anxiety, and despair.”

Roget had been making the list of words and phrases ever since 1805 (to help him use appropriate words in his many speeches). In the eighth year of his retired life, Roget took up the list again, edited it for four years and got it printed in 1852. Roget was 73 years of age at that time. The book became an instant hit. Saw many reprints during his life and will perpetuate his memory as long as the English language lasts and place him in the upper echelons of Immortals. After Roget’s death, his son John Lewis Roget (1828–1908) revised and expanded it. Later on John’s son Samuel Romilly Roget kept on revising the book and sold the book to Longmans. It was the first Longman edition that I purchased in 1952.

Among Roget’s various contributions to the modern world is the “log-log slide rule” that helps perform exponential and root calculations very easily, including fractional powers and roots.

He took great interest in medical education, was a founder of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, which later became the Royal Society of Medicine, was one of its secretaries.

His paper Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures is valued till now.

He played an important role in the establishment of the University of London; he was a founder of the Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge and wrote for it a series of popular manuals. He showed remarkable ingenuity in inventing and solving chess problems and designed an inexpensive pocket chessboard.

Roget’s Thesaurus has been revised many times. Its innumerable editions have sold over 30 million copies worldwide, has become an institution by itself. The man has become the BOOK.   ïïï




Present-day generation, though familiar with Roget’s modern version, has no idea of its unique format in 1952. Every page had two columns – one showed synonyms, the other antonyms. To me, it was as if the Pandava and Kaurava armies faced each other. The entries for which there were no antonyms was shown in a single column. They were like nonaligned spectators.



Today Roget has become a book. In some parts of the world, such as the UK, the word Roget is protected by copyright laws. In USA, the use of "Roget" in a thesaurus title may not indicate any relationship to Dr. Roget - it is seen as a generic thesaurus name, like "Webster" for dictionaries.



Roget’s Manuscript




Roget, Thesaurus, Dictionary, Arvind Kumar, Samantar Kosh Hindi Thesaurus, The Penguin English-Hindi/Hindi-English Thesaurus and Dictionary,