Which English word originated from the Greek word for "treasure," or "a storehouse for precious things"?

And the answer: Thesaurus.
Peter Mark Roget, author of Roget's thesaurus. Photo credit: public domain. 

Now defined as "a book that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts," the word "thesaurus" originated from the Greek "thēsauros." In 1852, a publication called the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases first defined a "thesaurus" as a "collection of words arranged according to sense."

For as long as humans have been around, we’ve been attempting to gather, group, sort, and otherwise identify key information about ourselves and the world around us. So it’s no surprise that the first thesaurus dates back to the 1st century. Titled On Synonyms, the thesaurus was created by Philo of Byblos, a Greek writer, grammarian, and historian. Remarkably, Philo’s text is guided by the same goals of modern thesauruses today: to expand linguistic ability by offering lists of words or phrases that mean the same thing, or almost the same thing. Today, we seek the same information on websites such as thesaurus.com, or the Merriam-Webster thesaurus.

Fun fact!

Although we tend to associate thesauruses simply with synonyms, some authors have gotten creative with the idea over the course of history. In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses to help readers memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

Did you know?

Yesterday was National Thesaurus Day! The day celebrates Peter Mark Roget, the author of Roget’s Thesaurus, who was born on January 18, 1779. After retiring from a successful career in medicine, Roget spent the rest of his life working on Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases: a thesaurus that went above and beyond. Aside from just synonyms, the work was a complete categorization and organization of each word by meaning. Learn more about National Thesaurus Day and how to get involved here.


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