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January 18 Celebrates Thesaurus Day

Thesaurus Day. Long cherished by wordsmiths everywhere, there’s hardly a better book built to boost our vocabularies.

In celebration of the thesaurus, let’s have a quick look at its early evolution.

The bibliophile of Byblos. Scholars believe the first thesaurus was put together by Greek historian and grammarian Philo of Byblos. His book “On Synonyms” was written in the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, nearly 2,000 years ago. This scholar is best known for his translation of the Phoenician history of Sanchuniathon, another historian who lived centuries earlier. Only fragments of this text still exist.

A Buddhist ballodeer. The oldest surviving thesaurus is in the form of a Sanskrit poem written by Amarasimha in the 4th century CE. The Amarakosha, as it is known, is divided into three books dealing with such subjects as gods, humans, animals and words. It has about 10,000 words. Other than the fact that he was a Buddhist, little is known about the author. It’s believed he wrote the book in the form of a poem to make it easier for students to commit it to memory. It’s been a staple of Sanskrit students for centuries.

A brilliant Brit. The first modern thesaurus was created by British scholar and physician Peter Mark Roget in 1852. As a physician, mathematician, writer and editor, Roget was in love with order and the classification of things. His organization of his book, “Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so to Assist in Literary Composition,” was inspired by the animal classifications of naturalist Carl Linnaeus. And it’s one of the best-known works ever printed in the English language. It’s sold more than 40 million copies since it was first published.

At Infinite Energy, we’re big supporters of childhood education. And we know that words—whether read, written or spoken—are the key to that learning. So here’s to all those synonyms and antonyms. And happy Thesaurus Day.

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