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April 2014, vol 10, no 1

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Pat Tompkins

A Kind of Dinosaur?

A thesaurus flew over the lake, hunting ichthyosaurs. Why not? After all, sauros is Greek for lizard. And "the" as prefix related to god. Holy lizard? No. (A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.) The word actually means treasury or storehouse (in New Latin).

For a book that hasn’t been out of print in more than 150 years, Roget’s Thesaurus doesn’t get much respect. It’s dismissed as a crutch for lazy writers who need help finding synonyms. As someone who regards a dictionary as a good desert island contender, I find a certain fascination in a book that offers more than five dozen alternatives to “picaroon,” which gets just two synonyms (pirate and rogue) in Webster’s. On the other hand, I chiefly use my thesaurus as a lamp stand.

As the comedian Steven Wright asked, what’s another word for thesaurus? I don’t have the answer, but I regard it as an anthology of words; anthology, another New Latin coinage from Greek, comes from a gathering of flowers.

Queen Anne’s lace
wild carrot or weed
a bouquet of words