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The man who made lists to fend off depression
Reuters via Yahoo ^ | 3-28-08

Posted on 03/28/2008 4:09:04 PM PDT by Dysart

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - His mother suffered dark depressions and tried to dominate his life. His sister and daughter had severe mental problems, his father and wife died young and a beloved uncle committed suicide in his arms.

So what did Peter Mark Roget, the creator of Roget's Thesaurus, do to handle all the pain, grief, sorrow, affliction, woe, bitterness, unhappiness and misery in a life that lasted over 90 years?

He made lists.

The 19th century British scientist made lists of words, creating synonyms for all occasions that ultimately helped make life easier for term paper writers, crossword puzzle lovers and anyone looking for the answer to the age-old question: "What's another word for ..."

And according to a new biography, making his lists saved Roget's life and by keeping him from succumbing to the depression and misery of those around him.

"As a boy he stumbled upon a remarkable discovery -- that compiling lists of words could provide solace, no matter what misfortunes may befall him," says Joshua Kendall author of the just published "The Man Who Made Lists" (Putnam, $25.95), a study of Roget's life (1779 to 1869) based on diaries, letters and even an autobiography composed of lists.

Kendall, in a recent interview, said Roget cared more for words than people and that making lists on the scale that he did was obsessive-compulsive behavior that helped him fend off the demons that terrorized his distinguished British family.

Madness was a regular guest in Roget's home, Kendall said. One of his grandmothers either had schizophrenia or severe depression, Roget's mother lapsed into paranoia, often accusing the servants of plotting against her. Both his sister and his daughter suffered depression and mental problems.

Then there was the case of Roget's uncle, British member of Parliament Sir Samuel Romilly, known for his opposition to the slave trade and for his support of civil liberties. He slit his own throat while Roget tried to get the razor out of his hands.

Unlike a Thesaurus, no one understood Uncle Sam's last words: "My dear....I wish..."

Indeed, to quote most of the Thesaurus listing for pain, Roget's was a life filled with grief, pain, suffering, distress, affliction, woe, bitterness, heartache, unhappiness, infelicity and misery.


Kendall said, "The lists gave him an alternative world to which to repair." Many writers have declared their debt to Roget, including Peter Pan's creator, J.M. Barrie. In homage, he put a copy of the Thesaurus in Captain Hook's cabin so he could declare: "The man is not wholly evil -- he has a Thesaurus in his cabin.

The 20th century poet Sylvia Plath called herself "Roget's Strumpet" to pay respects for all the word choices he gave her.

But the British journalist Simon Winchester holds Roget responsible for helping to dumb down Western culture because his work allows a writer to look it up rather than think it out.

Roget made his first attempt at a Thesaurus at age 26 but put aside the effort and did not publish his book until 1852 when he was in his 70s and retired. He then kept busy with it for the rest of his life.

It became an instant hit in Britain but did not sell that well when an American edition was published two years later. But when Americans went crazy for crossword puzzles in the 1920s, the Thesaurus assumed its place on reference shelves.

Kendall's book is written in a style that he calls "narrative non-fiction" which contains a lot of dialogue and descriptions of how Roget and his friends feel and think, all, he says, based on source material.

"I did a lot of work to stitch together a narrative," he said, adding that all the scenes in the book are based on actual events.

TOPICS: Health/Medicine; History
KEYWORDS: depression; lists; psychology; roget; scientists; thesaurus
I did not know this about Roget. But I'm surely grateful pleased appreciative thankful for his lists.
1 posted on 03/28/2008 4:09:05 PM PDT by Dysart
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To: Dysart
I did not know this about Roget. But I'm surely grateful pleased appreciative thankful for his lists.


2 posted on 03/28/2008 4:11:39 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand (Free New York)
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To: Dysart

CSPAN2 Book TV this weekend at 1 AM Monday PT and 4 AM ET.

3 posted on 03/28/2008 4:12:42 PM PDT by purpleraine
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To: purpleraine

Thanks. Love that show. They sell a lot of books on that prgm.

4 posted on 03/28/2008 4:15:23 PM PDT by Dysart
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To: Dysart

I check their site every Friday and wind up recording 3-4 of the programs. They’re rerunning the author of Boone this weekend. I found it very informnative.

5 posted on 03/28/2008 4:18:37 PM PDT by purpleraine
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To: purpleraine

I did not know about this show.

6 posted on 03/28/2008 4:22:35 PM PDT by Jane Austen
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To: Dysart
What an interesting post. I will try to catch the book review on Cspan this weekend. Thanks.
7 posted on 03/28/2008 4:54:26 PM PDT by mountainfolk (God bless President George Bush)
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To: Dysart
The result of his therapy was not just a crutch for lazy writers, but a wheelchair. Not one of those wheelchairs that one has to grab the hind wheels and push, but one of those newfangled ones...oh, heck...what do they call them? I wish there was a book that would tell me what those newfangled motorized wheelchairs are called if I looked up wheelchair.

Oh, well. He was a giant of words, on whose shoulders many journalists have sat and been inspired, aroused, excited, prompted, provoked, stimulated and stirred.

8 posted on 03/28/2008 6:15:37 PM PDT by Paul Heinzman (I'm going to turn out the lights for 5 seconds and then my tagline better be back.)
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To: Paul Heinzman; mountainfolk
It is indeed an interesting story. And as I was just discussing with someone, today they would have sent Roget off for psychotherapy for his obsessive compulsive disorder-- and medicated!

I believe the term that escapes you for 'newfangled' motorized wheelchair is scooter. But technically speaking that is not considered a wheelchair but a POV (power operated vehicle), which is distinct from a power wheelchair.

9 posted on 03/28/2008 6:38:46 PM PDT by Dysart
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To: windcliff; onedoug


10 posted on 03/29/2008 9:18:16 AM PDT by stylecouncilor (I'm a loner Dottie; a rebel.)
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