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Who wrote the first thesaurus?

People have been using big words to make themselves sound clever for millennia (probably), but the 'inaugural tome of verbose synonyms' may be a lot more recent. So who wrote the first thesaurus – and why?

A woman reading a vintage thesaurus
Published: June 7, 2022 at 9:00 am
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The earliest known thesaurus may have been written by the Ancient Greek historian Philo of Byblos, but the name most associated with those ever-so-helpful synonyms will always be Roget.


British doctor and polymath Peter Mark Roget began compiling (or gathering, collecting or amassing) his lists of words in 1805. At first it was a hobby, and an antidote for the depression he suffered from his whole life. It wouldn’t be until after Roget retired that he gave the project his total concentration, and was able to publish the first modern thesaurus in 1852.

Since then, it has never been out of print, although it had grown somewhat from around 15,000 words to a quarter of a million.


This content first appeared in the March 2019 issue of BBC History Revealed


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