Monday, January 12, 2009
I own Ralph's thesaurus. Occasionally, I lift it off the bookshelf to look up a synonym or antonym. While there, I usually spend more time figuring out how it "works". Mine is old. It is a "Roget's International Thesaurus", published by Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York. It is of the twenty-first printing, dated March 1961. It has a faded red cover and is "shaken". This means the spine does not hold the book upright any longer. It "slumps" on the shelf.
As I said, mine used to belong to Ralph L. Segal. I know this because his name is to be found on the front, on the inside, and on the top edge. A sticker on the outside front cover has a blue background with a white "swoop" in the center. In the "swoop" someone, presumably Ralph, has typed "This Book is The PERSONAL PROPERTY OF RALPH L. SEGAL A-78032". Below this statement is Ralph's signature written using blue ink. On the inside, at the very top of the title page, is another ownership statement, also written in cursive, in blue ink, "This book is the personal property of Ralph Segal." On the top edge is another signature, in large awkward letters. Which makes sense. It is difficult to write on the top edge of a book. I wonder what "A-78032" means? Was Ralph in prison? Doubtful. Was he in boarding school or in the military? How often did he use his (my) thesaurus? Did he have it by his side, at his fingertips? Is this the only thesaurus Ralph owned? Well, Ralph's is not the only thesaurus I own.
I have a computer connected to the internet. This means I have another thesaurus, actually many thesauri, at my fingertips. Any one of them is literally at my fingertips! It does not have to be lifted off the shelf, its shaken body opened, its insides a mystery to be solved. It has not been claimed by Ralph L. Segal A-78032 as his own PERSONAL PROPERTY. But, there is a drawback to everything.
I have heard a rumor about online thesauri. These little marvels do not offer as many word choices. This presents a dilemma, or a perplexity, a quandary, a confoundment, bewilderment, disconcertion, embarrassment, fix, hobble, pucker, confusion, muddle, muddlement, puzzle, puzzlement, baffle, bother, or an alternate choice, or a predicament. To be true to the craft, should not one avail oneself of ALL the possibilities? And, who gets to choose which words to include? Does this not make the online thesaurus "abridged"? Does one want "selected" synonyms? Since the online thesaurus is so easy to use, so available, perhaps the tradeoff is instant gratification. If ALL the possibilities were listed, one would have to work at it a bit. It would be kind of like trying to figure out how to use the printed Roget's Thesaurus. Also, if the electricity goes out, and I am writing my novel by candlelight, and I need a synonym, what would I do?
Today I vow to move my Roget's Thesaurus off the dusty bottom shelf of my little bookcase. Its new home will be on the far left side of the middle shelf of my big bookcase. This new home will be right beside my desk, just to the right of my chair. Now I have a real Roget's Thesaurus at my fingertips. All the possibilities. Used, faded, shaken. Just like me, and maybe just like Ralph.