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Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure. How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes.

Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus.

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Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae , a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms , a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem.

Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life— The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists. Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In , he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme.

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After retiring from his work as a physician in , Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated.

Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around , Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers.

So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. In , a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary.

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The project was a massive undertaking , as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in , the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains , words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas.

The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die , which features words and phrases such as expire , perish , succumb , drop dead , croak , go belly up , pull the plug , and kick the bucket.

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Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus , of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money , for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla , cheddar , mulah , coin , and bling.

The Arabic and Simplified Chinese scripts aren't in danger of going anywhere anytime soon, but the same can't be said for Balinese, Mali, Pahawh or Pahauh Hmong, and the other some alphabets that Vermont-based writer Tim Brookes has cataloged in his online Atlas of Endangered Alphabets , which is set for a soft launch on January The featured alphabets—which Brookes has loosely defined to include writing systems of all sorts—are vanishing for varied reasons, including government policies, war, persecution, cultural assimilation, and globalization.

The atlas will include a bit of background information about each alphabet as well as links to any organizations attempting to revive them. By creating a hub for these alphabets, Brookes hopes to connect people who want to preserve their language and culture, while also showing the world how beautiful and intricate some of these scripts—including the 10 below—can be. Although the Manataka American Indian Council says an ancient Cherokee writing system may have existed at one point but was lost to history, Cherokee was more or less a spoken language up until the early 19th century.

Around , a Cherokee man named Sequoyah started working on an character writing system known as a syllabary, in which the symbols represent syllables. Most remarkably, Sequoyah himself had never learned how to read. At the time, many Native Americans deeply distrusted writing systems, and Sequoyah was put on trial for witchcraft after tribal leaders caught wind of his new creation.

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However, once they realized that written Cherokee could be used to preserve their language and culture, they asked Sequoyah to start teaching the syllabary. After a period of decline in the years following the Indian Removal Act of , Cherokee language education saw somewhat of a revival in the late 20th century. The predominance of English and the Latin alphabet has made these efforts an uphill battle, though. Many of these are based on the Latin alphabet, but the one shown above uses syllabics that were first introduced by European missionaries in the 19th century.


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The name Glagolitic stems from the Old Church Slavonic word glagolati , meaning to speak. Some of the symbols were lifted from Greek, Armenian, and Georgian, while others were entirely new inventions. Nowadays, academics are typically the only ones who can decipher the script, but some cultural institutions have made efforts to preserve its legacy.

In , the National and University Library in Zagreb launched an online portal containing digitized versions of Glagolitic texts. In addition to being a source of Croatian heritage and pride, the alphabet has also become an object of tourist fascination. However helpful this may be to the tourism sector, it's no guarantee that more Croatians will want to start learning the script. This African script is unusual for several reasons. One day, he was looking at his wall when he noticed that the mortar between the bricks seemed to form two numbers: He believed these were divine clues, so he set out to create a series of symbols based off those shapes.

Eventually, he assigned the symbols phonographic meaning and turned it into an alphabet that could be used by speakers of the Kikongo and Lingala languages.


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  • Perhaps most remarkably, the pronunciation changes depending on how the symbols are rotated. Unlike most of the other alphabets on this list, Mandombe is growing in popularity rather than declining. Elsewhere in the country, the Latin alphabet is used French is the official language. For an in-depth look at the ins and outs of Match.

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