Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Roget's Thesaurus

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About a month ago my mum found a battered Roget’s Thesaurus in a charity shop. Or rather, instead of finding, she perhaps unearthed, happened upon, came across or brought to light this great big tome of a book with thick pages and a mint jacket.  There are plenty of phrases that could convey her sniffing out of interesting bargains, several more appropriate than others. All can be found under category 487: 'Discovery', and running through the nouns, verbs, colloquialisms and shades of meaning held within this one grouping confirms how invaluable a book it is.

My mum bought it, remembering an identical copy from her seventies' childhood. One of the few items transported from house to house as she moved, Roget became a dependable addition to each new setting. Her late mother (my dimly remembered grandmother) would, I'm told, sit, read and revel. New words were hooked and held up like flickering, silver-scaled fish. It was a text to consult whenever the right word was needed, or a new one pursued to colour and enhance vocabulary. That same cover still proudly proclaims in oxblood-hue lettering: “expand, enrich and invigorate your speech and writing with this comprehensive treasury of almost 250,000 words and phrases, grouped by ideas.”
There's something deeply nourishing in flicking through this thesaurus that treats words with such respect. The accumulation of words and phrases is both practical and delectable.  In among the synonyms and antonyms there are quotes ranging from Shakespeare to The Bible to Tennyson. Looking up something such as ‘Fashion’ brings the reader to an almost poem-like list: “spruceness, nattiness, neatness, trimness, sleekness, dapperness, jauntiness, sharpness, spiffiness, classiness, niftiness [all slang].” Every possible meaning is laid out; numbered neatly. Ten minutes of idle exploration is enough to kindle the imagination for days.

In the introduction to my edition, Ivor Brown discusses the frustration triggered by the “lack of the best word and sometimes even of a barely sufficient one.” Sometimes I find myself returning to the same phrases again and again, hemmed in by the confines of the familiar. Having a thesaurus allows one to step over this limitation and push out at the boundaries of language. It is a tool; picked up and used to shape a sentence or to clarify a theme.

Brown’s introduction reminds me of one of William Hazlitt’s most remarkable essays. In ‘On Familiar Style’ he writes that one should not use “the first word that offers, but the best in common use”; going on later to observe that, “It is not pomp or pretension, but the adaptation of expression to the idea, that clenches a writer’s meaning: - as it is not the size or glossiness of the materials, but their being fitted each to their place, that gives strength to the arch.” Although it may be said that luxuriating in words for words’ sake would have displeased Hazlitt (he dismissed “florid style” as a “spangled veil to conceal the want” of real ideas), I can identify with that need to find exactly the right one. It's like whittling a shape until it slots into the space that's waiting for it. No other will do. It could perhaps be jammed in, but then it would stick out awkwardly rather than being seamless.

When typing on my laptop, the thesaurus window is always open. I use it to look up alternatives or locate words that I can’t quite bring to mind. But this only goes so far. The results can feel restricted, as though more lies beyond. Meanings are broken down into short, useful lists. The less obvious possibilities will not be found onscreen, but here, in my huge block of a book with a sellotaped jacket. It smells of wooden floorboards, antique shops, sun-bleached fabric and warm forgetting. But reading it offers the opposite: remembering words, expanding their meanings. It's a book of knowledge and nuance. Long may its pages continue to elevate and inspire.  

Talking of writing and words, I have been very fortunate recently. Firstly, an article of mine was published on the Guardian Comment is Free, discussing the devastating factory collapse in Bangladesh & the ethics of fashion. It can be seen here
I was also delighted to find out that I had won the 2013 Hippocrates Prize for Young Poets. More on that soon...

To accessorize Roget I wore a mint green vintage 60s minidress bought from Beyond Retro when I was 13. It was one of the first items I featured on my blog, and thus (to me) exemplifies clothing longevity. I also have on a black vintage St Michael velvet blazer, satin heels from a charity shop and a bag made locally from recycled materials. 
Thought that a Gif was needed to capture the full effect of me being precarious in very high heels. 


Lucys Lounge said...

jana, you are a beautiful girl i love your dress. i liked reading your blog post . i agree with you about words. i am really bad with them i forget them all the time. i will now use a thesaurus. love lucyx

Bella Q said...

You are so talented! Congrats on the prize- one of many I'm sure in your very long life! Happy Birthday!

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Ha! These photos are so fun! Love the coloring. I think you would have made an amazingly funny silent movie actress! Your expressions are priceless :)

I actually had a friend growing up who used to read the dictionary and the encyclopedia britannica before going to bed. We were about 12 years old. I thought he was nuts at the time but now he's crazy smart...

Willow said...

Ah, the excitement of discovering a new word or phrase. I often use the online thesaurus, but I still prefer opening up our humongous Oxford dictionary and searching through the pages rather than scrolling on a computer. There's something very wonderful about finding a word you're not familiar with and looking it up.

Lovely images, I particularly like the 3rd, 4th and 6th, the gif was enjoyable too. The dress and shoes are gorgeous and what a great bag - it looks as if it's made out of a tie and a big ribbon roll?

Your article on Bangladesh is really great, I cried at that image too - it was devastating.
And congratulations on the Hippocrates prize, that's wonderful.

Closet Fashionista said...

I love that dust jacket, sometimes my favorite parts of books are the covers (weird since you shouldn't judge a book by it ;) )
Congrats on your two big pieces of news! :D

Melanie said...

Roget's Thesaurus is a wonderful reference book that reads even better when accessorized by your green minidress.
Congratulations on your Hippocrates Prize for Young Poets. Such exciting news and only the beginning for you. And your Guardian piece must be read by Everyone.

Helen Le Caplain said...

I love how you've co-ordinated the thesaurus with that lovely mint dress!

Going to have to have a go at the animated gifs now...!

Vix said...

Your Mum and me both! In fact, I found mine on Monday when I was sorting the charity collection out.
I love how your sweet dress matches the cover and am thrilled you've won the prize. Well done. I'm proud to know you, even if it is only virtually! xxx

Madeline said...

Great post, the photos turned out very well indeed too

Rosa Fay said...

Beautiful! The outfit is stunning! Amazing that you managed to find something that fit the same colour of the thesaurus jacket.
Indeed, there is nothing nicer then rooting around for old books (This actually seems to be a passion of mine at the moment - collecting antique books). Nothing better than thesauruses either, they can colour a sentence with just a turn of phrase!

Always loving the blog,

Rosa Xx

sorelle in style said...

Ooh congratulations on the very well-deserved publications! You are so talented! I, too, constantly have the Thesaurus tab open on my browser - it totally came in handy during law school! :)

sorelle in style


Great post, and congrats again on the wonderful writing ventures and prize. The vintage thesaurus is so fitting, especially with the beautiful photos and story to go along with it. My father used to make us read the dictionary if we ever dared to say that we were "bored." Smart Gif incorporation! /Madison

Nina Jankovic said...

What a dress, and those shoes! That thesaurus sounds really wonderful, and I agree, using an online one is really nowhere similar to the beauty of some of those words used. I really want to find an old thesaurus book now :) One that includes dapperness, it must!

Nina Jankovic said...

Oh, I also wanted to add that I really loved your guardian article (congrats on so much success, you are an incredible lady!) and I also have been extremely wary of shopping since I was younger and read No Logo by Naomi Klein. Fashion (and almost everything else we produce) needs to be more ethical and sustainable, I write about this too sometimes and I'm so glad that someone I follow the fashion blog of believes the same thing.

Too often most of the people I follow blog-wise shop at H & M and the like, and by posting where they got their clothes all they are doing is advertising for more fast consumption. I much prefer vintage and thrift oriented blogs because it's not about that at all. So yeah, you're wonderful.


The Foolish Aesthete said...

Oh I LOVE Roget's Thesaurus (we had one throughout my childhood too, alongside the Webster's Dictionary). I am a copious user of both the dictionary and thesaurus, though I've transitioned to the online versions. They are as delightful to read through as they are important in helping express the right nuance in a phrase.

Have you ever picked up Dr. Johnson's Dictionary from 1755? Such an enjoyable lexicon, particularly with regards to the quotations of word usage. I would have loved to have been his amanuensis for this huge undertaking. I read his biography years ago. People aren't made like Dr. Johnson anymore ...

Congratulations on getting published (again, and I will read your piece after this), and even more impressive, earning the poetry prize!!! I am so glad that your talent is being recognized broadly.

And, your animated gif is just darling! -- J xxx

Emalina said...

Many many congrats on winning that poetry prize, what a coup! And I can't wait to read your article in the Guardian.

I love how you've matched the colour of that thesaurus with that gorgeous little mini dress - and a perfect way to showcase those amazing pins of yours! And thank you for introducing me to the joys of a gif - for some reason the site is rejecting my images for being too big but I'm going to look forward to seeing more of yours come to life.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your CoF article! I have to confess that is one of my favourite sites to visit. I also like one that takes a visual approach ( which is satisfying and easier for my visual oriented brain to compute!

Izzy DM said...

Congratulations on your article. I thought it managed to be very personal and yet argued the issue in a dispassionate, logical manner-- well-done! Blogging has probably helped achieve that difficult balance?

And a million congratulations on your prize! Is the poem posted on the link you give?

I used to read the dictionary, too :) I love etymologies of words, but it's more because I like learning languages in general, and it's made my English a little strange.

I'm excited to read the poem! Can't wait. xx

Tara said...

Words are such beautiful things: powerful, precious and persuasive.
In that moment, when the right ones have been sourced out, chanced upon or – put quite simply – found, opportunities for articulation, seem to appear, abound (The rhyming was completely unintentional!).
In that moment, articulation and expression are not mere by-products of feeling that just because one has a semblance of an opinion, one should just voice that opinion because it’s there, but desires; the right words forge a need to express oneself, and to do so as best possible.
In that moment, almost nothing feels ineffable.
The gnawing desire to find “exactly the right” words is one that I can relate to wholly. There was a time, in the not-too distant past, when was an amalgamation of a best friend and an informant. I’ve now curbed my usage of the site to nil since inheriting my older brother’s aging Mac, which has an extensive, in-built, and even more user-friendly dictionary and thesaurus combo.
There’s also something to be said about the borderline paradoxical nature of words and their usage; words are, I believe, the ultimate tool of expression and yet, it’s almost impossible to express the greatness of words, with words. This comment, in itself, is a prime example of this: I’ve just used over one hundred words, a couple of analogies and even an unintentional rhyme to express how much I love words and how great they can be, and yet, if I were to compare it to your copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, my words would barely cover Brown’s introduction. But, that is, I suppose, part of the greatness of words. They can’t express it all, all of the time, but most of what they can express never fades.

*I have a little (read: a lot) more to add, but it will not fit in one comment, so I've split my comment into two parts... I'm so sorry!*

Best Wishes,


Tara said...

I really enjoyed reading your Guardian article, Roz. At the moment, for many different reasons, my mind is akin to a colander: a slew of national, international and global affairs and general topical issues pass through it everyday, but only the “larger”, somehow more resonant, issues stick. The unnecessary, untimely, unacceptable but utterly preventable deaths of thousands of Bangladeshi clothing factory workers was one of those larger, resonant issues that has stuck in my mind, ever since I first heard of the incident and particularly after I saw the image you gave a link to. I didn’t even have to click the link to know which of the many harrowing images of the Rana Plaza disaster it was. I, too, was moved to tears the first time I saw the almost Pompeii-esque photo – blood, tears, dust, rubble; agony and fear, frozen in time; two lives lost.
Your informed message and earnest strides away from the High Street are extremely noble. But, as you say, many people across the globe rely on High Street purchases for their livelihood, so a mass-exodus is not the best solution, nor is it at all sustainable. Despite bemoaning the lack of originality and ethics on the High Street very often, I have to admit that it is my first port of call when it comes to shopping for clothes – as is the case with the much of the British public. This attitude, however, is becoming increasingly difficult to justify, with there being is no quick fixes, and yet there being many grey areas and loopholes.
We, the public, as consumers, have a responsibility – a massive one as evinced by the billions we “invest” into High Street apparel – to ask the big, ethical and eco questions, and not stop asking them until we get answers. We also have a responsibility to force those at the helm of organisations such as Arcadia, Inditex and Hennes and Mauritz to change the way they view earnings and “big bucks” over employee welfare and bolstering moral integrity.
But, I do not think that we have a “responsibility” to make every clothing purchase we make, an investment. I say this, despite also prescribing to the school of thought that “less is more”, trying to make clothing last as long as possible and, quite simply, trying not to buy a lot (which is pretty easy on a restrictive budget!), I know many can’t. Whether or not this is through choice or circumstance, this – at the tail end of the argument – is irrelevant. What is most important for us all – regardless of whether we are devotees to fast-fashion or advocates of sartorial investments – is that we learn from the this; we learn from the Dhaka clothing factory collapse of 2013, we learn from the Karachi clothing factory fires of 2012, and we think before we shop, creating our own practical solutions that allow us to still “feel good” and “make a statement” and all the other lovely things our attire permits us, but also allow those at the beginning of the production chain (but at the bottom of the company hierarchy) access to quality working conditions, healthcare, sufficient pay and all the other basic rights we tend to neglect, once we hear the irresistible call of slashed prices, BOGOFs and sample sales.

P.S. I’ve noticed that since the last time I’ve been on your blog, you’ve turned eighteen! Happy (Belated) Birthday, Roz! I hope you had a wonderful day, and I wish you many more wonderful, word-filled days in the future.

Best Wishes,


Jean at said...

Delicious, delectable words!!! I love words too, and it's one of the reasons I'm always thrilled when I stop by. Congratulations on your recent achievements! I have an old Roget's Thesaurus in paperback, and I must find it and keep it close.

The mint green of the dress and book are refreshing, especially with your lovely lip color.

Laura said...

you look beautiful, and i love how the dress and the book match! x

Aida said...

Your outfit is amazing and I love your hair. Great match with the thesaurus. Such a nice idea and congrats on your prize! That's amazing.

Aida x

Kirstin Marie said...

I'm so happy to be visiting your blog again. I know it has been what feels like forever. I missed your stunning photos and your wonderful writing. I hope you are well! xo

Micheal Jim said...

There are two things in this post Jana. You are beautiful and the outfits is also fantastic. Combination gives a shine :)

Micheal Jim said...

OH Jana, You are so beautiful. The outfit is so classy. Am wearing a tshirt right now with same this color. Bless you:)

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