Reference > Roget’s > International Thesaurus > Preface
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Mawson, C.O.S., ed. (1870–1938). Roget’s International Thesaurus. 1922.
 
Preface
 
IN devising a book of synonyms two different methods are open to us: one is the so-called dictionary method, in which the synonymized words are given in alphabetical order; the other is the plan adopted by Roget, which to-day still stands preëminent. What the dictionary plan gains in facility of reference it loses in suggestiveness and comprehensiveness. It appeals to the novice rather than to the practised writer.   1
  The INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS, by means of its Index Guide and its prominent key words, combines the advantages of the dictionary plan with the masterly scheme conceived by Roget. In short, it is not an accretion but an organism, each word being related to its neighbors and each part to the whole.   2
  The dictionary is the birthplace of the synonym: almost every definition supplies an affinitive term for the word defined. The making of dictionaries thus affords a rare training for the preparation of a book of synonyms and antonyms. To apply such experience to the revision of Roget was first done in 1911 when the New Thesaurus appeared, of which the present work is an outgrowth.   3
  Lexicography is not a prophetic science: it merely records the past and the present and plays an important part in the standardization of speech. It follows therefore that the dictionary and the thesaurus must constantly be kept abreast of present-day requirements. Not only is the language actually growing, but old words take on new senses, while others drift into desuetude. The scientist and the inventor are constantly adding to the linguistic store.   4
  A new thesaurus was clearly called for—a book modernized and systematized and brought into line with the latest lexicographical science. To “revise” Roget’s book in the ordinary way by correcting errors and adding new terms was no longer adequate. The time had arrived when a new building was essential, equipped with all modern improvements and conveniences. Yet the old material has been built into the newer structure. Just as Noah Webster’s epoch-making work has been merged in its vigorous descendant, the New International Dictionary, so has the pioneer achievement of Roget been embodied in the INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS.   5
  The INTERNATIONAL differs from its predecessors in (1) its enlarged list of synonyms and antonyms; (2) its special grouping of comparisons and associated terms; (3) its systematization of scientific and technical terminology; (4) the regrouping of synonyms, so that each paragraph consists of words more or less related and interchangeable; (5) the characterization of all absolete, obsolescent, rare, archaic, colloquial, dialectal, and slang words, as well as all British, foreign, and special terms, as is done in the best dictionaries; (6) the giving of plurals in all cases of unusual difficulty; (7) the addition of numerous phrases and idioms; (8) the inclusion of many citations from modern authors, felicitous and keen in phrase and thought.   6
  The new words run well into the thousands and embrace every department of knowledge. Particular attention has been given to scientific and technical terms and the newer words of the schools and the street. The special needs of the speaker and the writer have been kept in view, and the aim has been not merely to supply a selection of synonyms but to suggest ideas and new turns of thought. The parallel arrangement of synonyms and antonyms, peculiar to Roget’s scheme, adds further to the usefulness of the book and gives a completeness to every page. Books on the dictionary plan usually cover the antonyms (if they give them at all) by cross-references to other groups of synonyms in the main vocabulary. Thus, under goodness they refer to badness as an antonym. Roget gives goodness and badness side by side.   7
  Apart from the scientific and logical arrangement the distinguishing feature of Roget is the inclusion of phrases. No other synonymy gives anything but individual words. Not only does the use of phrases enlarge the group of synonyms for any particular word, but in many instances the phrase furnishes the only possible synonym. The improvement of this unique feature has received the most painstaking attention. The plays of modern dramatists have been searched for the pithy phrase, the apt expression, the well-turned aphorism—in short, for spoken English at its best. Scores of other modern writers have also been laid under contribution, while, as the quotations themselves will show, new and old alike have given of their choicest in thought and form.   8
  The “International” character of the book is evidenced by the variant spellings and by the scope of the vocabulary. All Briticisms and Americanisms are labeled, and where the usage differs in the two countries such difference is pointed out. The English language marches with no frontiers; it is a world possession. Every race and every country is reflected in its vocabulary. The INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS is alive to this universality, and, to assist writers in giving local color, the home of every imported word is duly recorded.   9
  The task was an ambitious one and the labor has been considerable. The burden was shared by a hard-working and enthusiastic colleague, Miss Katharine Aldrich Whiting, a graduate of Boston University, whose sound scholarship, wide literary knowledge, and fine appreciation of the written and spoken word have enhanced the value of the book beyond all measure. Her long experience as a teacher of English and literature has been an additional asset.   10
  My thanks are due also to many users of my earlier edition for their kindly criticism and valuable suggestions; more particularly am I indebted to Dr. John M. Gitterman of Zurich, Switzerland, and to Prof. Robert M. Wernaer of Harvard University.   11
 
C. O. SYLVESTER MAWSON.

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