Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni books Dianne Salerni blog Dianne Salerni Appearances Dianne Salerni contact Dianne Salerni teachers
Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Back to Roget’s

Back to Roget’s


For my first post of 2015, I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to Thesaurus.com for junking up their site. I had gotten lazy, and it was their excessive trashiness that snapped me out of it.

In high school, I was the nerd who wrote stories in notebooks all the time and carried a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus in my purse. I wore it out, in fact. (The thesaurus, not my purse, although come to think of it, I probably wore out both.) My parents gave me a newer, bigger Roget’s as a graduation present – 1,318 pages of word lists! I carried this one to college and later kept it on a shelf near my desk in my own classroom. My students called it The Big One and borrowed it whenever their dinky student thesauruses weren’t up to the task. (Student thesauruses are designed to help kids replace ordinary words with interesting ones, and my vocabulary assignments required them to look up advanced words and learn their meaning through synonyms and associated words. The words they needed to look up often weren’t listed in their thesauruses.)

I had to teach my students to how to find their word in the back, choose the correct shade of meaning, then look up the accompanying reference number in the front. “Wow, that’s complicated!” they said.

But in my own writing at home, I’d gotten lazy. True, The Big One had gone to live in my classroom, but I never made an effort to acquire another one. I looked my synonyms up on Thesaurus.com because it was easy and only required me to shift to another tab on my computer screen while writing. Of course, lots of times I left the site frustrated because I hadn’t found the right word.

Then Thesaurus.com added really obnoxious stuff to their site. Flashing ads. Pop-up boxes. They changed their format and highlighted the synonyms in color, as if that would help. I got even lazier and started Googling for synonyms … which produced less options and more frustration.

Last spring, as many of you know, I retired from teaching. The Roget Thesaurus came home to live on my own bookshelf – although not in the room where I usually write. A week or so ago, frustrated because I couldn’t find a synonym that would make a broken sentence work, I heaved a sigh and finally got off my butt. I walked away from the computer, all the way into the next room, and opened Roget’s.  I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t used this thesaurus for my own work in years.

But as soon as I opened it, I realized why Thesaurus.com or Google did not in any way replace The Big One.  Just look:

Inside Roget

Words! Related words! Concepts! Associated concepts! How could I possibly have overlooked the very lesson I tried to teach my students about the association of words? The reason I couldn’t find a good synonym was that I was expressing my idea in entirely the wrong way. I thought I wanted to say one thing, but the concept in my head required a different set of associated words. Not synonyms.

All those lists forced me to THINK about what I wanted to say. No wonder I use to carry this thing in my purse. It’s pure brain food.

So that’s why my New Year’s Resolution for 2015 is this: No apps, websites, or Google searches shall come before Roget’s.

18 Responses to Back to Roget’s

  1. I haven’t been on the thesaurus site lately. I guess that shows how little I’ve been writing. Sounds like I need to crack open my thesaurus too once I get back to writing. Funny what your school kids called your book.

  2. I guess I’m lazy as well. I use the one in Word. When that doesn’t give me what I need, I do go grab our physical Thesaurus though.

  3. I bet you were the one in front of me in class and we both whipped out our handy Thesaurus–or Thesauri–for just the right word.

    Love The Big One!

    Happy New Year.

  4. Tiana Smith says:

    I soooo need to do this! I’ve been using thesaurus.com and never find what I want. I’m also glad I’m not the only one who got gifts of thesauruses and dictionaries from my parents! 🙂

  5. It takes forever to find something on thesaurus.com – the right word never seems to spit out. I’ll have to check into a Big One and see if it helps. Actually, yours reminds me of my Webster Dictionary…well, my hub’s old one. I stole it 😉 I love that thing. Massive not only in words, but burns calories when I carry it!

  6. Angela Brown says:

    I haven’t used a Roget’s in a while. Now that I think about it, I used to have a small but thick thesaurus I kept by my bed a very long time ago. It may be time to grab me a Big One.

  7. Oh, if your students could see you now! They’d all be wagging their fingers at you (you know how they are). Sometimes we forget that the stuff online really isn’t that helpful, but the ease of use sucks use in.

  8. Julie Dao says:

    You’ve convinced me, Dianne – I need a copy of this, STAT. I’ve been using Google or Thesaurus.com and usually never use whatever pops up in the search engine. I just let it inspire me and the right word eventually comes along on its own. I love that this lists associated concepts too!

  9. Maria says:

    Time to go book shopping for me! I never had a thesaurus that nice, but pre-internet, I did adore my “small one.” Would get lost in the words for hours sometimes (yeah, I’m weird.)

  10. You convince me to go buy one! I use the one in Word, and play around with the associated words. It doesn’t always get me there, though. And it happens all to often that I can’t quite remember the word I want.

  11. Joanne Fritz says:

    Oh ha ha, Dianne! I still have my 1962 Roget’s International Thesaurus and it’s one of my bibles, close to my writing desk. I admit, sometimes I get lazy and use the thesaurus feature in Word but that’s so limited I always turn back to Roget. Thanks for a fun New Year’s post.

  12. J E Oneil says:

    I know, I wasn’t thrilled with the changes to Thesaurus.com either. It feels a lot less intuitive. And now you have to go all the way in the next room for your synonyms. What is this, the dark ages?

    Is Roget’s online somewhere? Because that would be AMAZING.

  13. LOL! Heaved yourself up and walked into the other room. I can so relate. I don’t even leave the program I’m using. Word has a Thesaurus right in it… Uh… I might need to adjust my thinking this year. Ha!

  14. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne .. I’ve a Thesaurus or two here .. but must get them nearer to this typing machine … that has a magic way of sending stuff around the world! I need to do a sort out – and get a Thesaurus nearby …

    I hope some of your students were better absorbers of information given out by their teacher, than their teacher appears to have been – til she decided enough was enough and retired!! Glad you found it …

    Happy New Year – cheers Hilary

  15. Chris Fries says:

    Wow, that story is… um, good. Because it has… uhhhh, good stuff in it, and it made me feel, like… um, good when I read it.

    Sorry — I’m boycotting Thesaurus.com too because I also hate it now. It’s not… um, good, any more.

    Maybe I’ll get one of those old-fangled “book” thesaurus thingies. That would be good, because it could make my writing more… errr, good, and stuff.

  16. Robin says:

    You’re not the only one guilty of this laziness. I keep a book called The Synonym Finder beside my computer, but it “ain’t” Roget’s… This post was a rather insistent reminder that I need to invest the funds in buying The Big One. The computer and my piddly Synonym Finder aren’t getting the job done.

  17. Hi, Dianne…

    LOVE THIS! I agree with you, Thesaurus.com is so bad now. I freaked when I used it last with all the crap jumping on and off the screen. I think it’s time for me to order MY BIG BOOK! IT looks AWESOME!

    I think I will drop by AMAZON right now and order one.

    I am ALMOST finished The Inquisitor’s Mark. LOVE IT! I know you’ll love my review. I hope to have it posted on Friday…. then I will put it on Amazon, GOODREADS…. I just took a break to blog. Needed to catch up a bit. LOL.

    Thanks again for letting me review it. SOOO sorry it has taken me so long to get to it. BUT it’s my FIRST book of 2015! And I am SOOOO happy about that!

  18. Julia Tomiak says:

    My Roget’s is super old – I think my mom used it in the 1960s at the University of Wisconsin. I think it’s time to upgrade. It will still be hardcover, and not an app.