Peter Mark Roget – Vocabulist, phonologist, lexicographer, glossographer
What’s another word for inventor? I’ll check the thesaurus for synonyms: Creator. Initiator. Pioneer. Begetter. Architect. Author. And so on; a list possible due to the innovations of Peter Mark Roget.
Roget created ‘Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases’, a dictionary of synonyms that was published in 1852 and has never been out of print. It was a book that Sylvia Plath infamously said she would ‘rather live with on a desert isle than a Bible’. Prior to its creation, though, Roget was a member of the Manchester Lit & Phil, having joined in 1805, the same year in which Roget began his classification scheme for words. Roget became Vice President of the Manchester Lit & Phil within two years.
At the Society, Roget rubbed shoulders with physicians and surgeons, an academic climate cultivated by the city’s bubbling intelligentsia. It was also during this period in which he became first secretary of The Portico Library, and began to give public lectures.
Peter Mark Roget served as The Portico Library’s first Secretary from 1806. It was during his time at The Portico that Roget began his decades-long work of compiling his Thesaurus, which has sold over 30 million copies since its first publication in 1852, empowering generations by expanding our vocabularies and developing our understanding of how words work. His achievements are remarkable and diverse – from ground-breaking work in medicine and metrology (the study of measurement) to serving at the Royal Society, his influence can be found in the development of film, computing, health, and lexicography.
Sarah Hill, Communications Officer, The Portico Library
Roget’s time as a member of the Manchester Lit & Phil was spent alongside John Dalton. Dalton was a workhorse, too busy to pursue a romantic relationship and kept himself to himself. Dalton’s only pastime was to play bowls on a Thursday at the Dog & Partridge pub in Manchester, during a period in which both Dalton and Roget served as officers at the Manchester Lit & Phil.
Although Roget’s stay in Manchester was brief, it was a formative period in his career. For instance, Roget’s time spent with Dalton was an influence on his work on vision and optical illusions. Roget was also a member of faculty at the old Manchester Medical School, where he delivered courses in medicine. A most remarkable man, all things considered!
- Alongside original minute books hand-written in Roget’s own script, The Portico preserves documents of his invention of the slide-rule and study of the persistence of vision, plus papers on number generation and cranioscopy (an argument against the pseudoscience of phrenology).
- The 100 best nonfiction books: No. 65 - Thesaurus by Dr Peter Mark Roget (2017 article from The Guardian)