Wednesday 8 July 2009

A Better Thesaurus

Generally speaking I am no friend of the thesaurus. Monsieur Roget's much revised masterpiece seems to me a relic of an age when otherwise sane men thought it possible and desirable to bring everything under one system and, by a process of minute classification, give every single thing an appointed place in the grand scheme. (The Dewey Decimal System was another such project, one which was soon showing its limitations.) Working on the assumption that if you can't think of the right word you're not thinking the right thought, I don't routinely use a thesaurus. I suspect this purist attitude might break down with the advancing years, but I must say that on the few occasions when I have consulted a thesaurus, I've never found it to be of much use. Anyway, to get to the point - here's a thesaurus I do like the look of. Being historically arranged, it expresses the development of the language, as well as the richness of the world of synonyms, euphemisms, dysphemisms, jocular and slang forms etc that has grown, and is still growing, around such a simple notion as a pair of trousers. What's rather wonderful is that this extraordinary feat of scholarship - the product of 40 years' work - was conceived and begun in that now distant-seeming age before computers took so much of the slog out of such enterprises. Hats, lids, titfers, chapeaux and tiles off to Christian Kay!


  1. By the way, that's me third from left in the picture.

  2. Ah, you love words, you poetical old thing. Your way with them is positively Nigelicious.

    I've encountered a couple of fun words this week: Idiopathic (yup, defined by Dr. House rather amusingly in one episode) and extispicy. First time I saw the latter I thought it was how my son likes his chicken wings but, oh, it's much more interesting than that. Wonder what synonym the thesaurus has for that word? I can only think of one and it's a bland substitution indeed.

    Bring on the Tabasco.

  3. Crucial for the cryptic crossword, the thesaurus. Also for composing doggerel.

    I do like "unimaginables", and "unwhisperables" for trousers. Those naughty old Victorians, they weren't fooling anyone with their absurd - and transparently pretend - prudery.

  4. What I don't understand is why trousers were considered more daring than stockings and breeches. Surely the latter were just as - if not more - revealing of what was underneath, the calves in particular.

  5. Old boys still golfed in plus-fours when I was young. We knew them as "shit keppers".

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