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Peter Mark RogetPeter Mark Roget

"publisher of synonyms"

Peter Mark Roget was born in London, England, on January 18, 1779. His father, Swiss clergyman Jean Roget, died when Peter was four, after which his mother Catherine moved the family several times before settling in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Roget entered Edinburgh University at the age of 14, and graduated with a medical degree in 1798. As a young doctor he published works on tuberculosis and on the effects of nitrous oxide ("laughing gas"), then used as an anaesthetic. In 1808 he moved to London, where he lectured on a variety of medical topics.

Roget did not confine himself to medicine. In 1814 he invented a slide rule to calculate the roots and powers of numbers, and later in life attempted to construct a calculating machine. An interest in optics led to a paper on how the kaleidoscope could be improved, as well as to a paper on how a series of images presented in rapid succession would create the illusion of motion. His medical training led him to seek ways to improve sanitation and food preservation, and he even discussed the concept of a "frigidarium" (basically an unheated bath). His far-reaching interests allowed him to contribute articles on a number of subjects to encyclopedias, and to a fellowship at the Royal Society, for which he served as secretary from 1827 to 1848. He also helped found Manchester Medical School and the University of London.

The work for which Roget ist today best known began as a way for him to always have an "inventory" of words to enhance his writings with. In 1840 he all but retired from all of his other pursuits in order to organize that "inventory" into a form suitable for publication, and the end result was Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition, which was published in 1852. Roget's collection of synonyms and antonyms was not the first such volume to appear, but his was far better organized than previous efforts. His classification system functions as the reverse of a dictionary -- a reader starts with the meaning and finds the word. A total of 28 editions were printed during Roget's lifetime. His son and grandson went on to edit later editions after his death, which came in West Malvern, Worcestershire, on September 12, 1869.

Edinburgh, Scotland

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This page was last updated on January 17, 2017.