As a writer, I am curious as to the style and substance of other writers. Verbiage is unlimited, and I have long noted in the writings of some a desire to impress the reader with words that may be motivated by conceit rather than to report, to advise or to describe.
This thought struck me dramatically when my wife and I were moving from our beach home and were cleaning out six bookcases replete with an accumulation of fiction, non-fiction, anthologies, biographies, and high school and college yearbooks.
As she was sorting the books, she asked, "What do you want to do with this old Roget's Thesaurus?" I had purchased it in my senior college year for $2 and had completely forgotten about the book. I now had three Rogets, including a handsome leather-bound Roget on my office desk. I am an impulsive and compulsive writer - through the years, Roget's Thesaurus has been my friend, my advisor and my teacher.
I was holding the old book in my hand; the cover was held together with tape and I was contemplating the fate of my old friend, when I heard, "Perspicacious is a synonym for smart; use it to describe Marvin Stone!"
I must be dreaming, delirious or just plain nutty - old books don't talk. When I heard, "Obsequious means groveling," my hands began to shake; my wife asked, "Are you O.K.?"
I replied, "This old Roget is talking to me," and she said, "I told you earlier today that you were having too much sun."
I responded, "I'm telling you my old Roget is talking to me."
Suddenly, my old Roget asked me, "Would you like me to check oxymoron?"
"Why?" I asked.
"Because in 2004, I received millions of inquiries for oxymoron, so after the first million, I said, oxymoron is a moron inhaling oxygen," he quipped. My friend soon followed up with, "Do you want me to check paradigm?"
"Why should I question paradigm?" I asked.
"Because in 2005, it was being used by millions to impress less knowledgeable persons. Did you know that the use of fancy words is a form of psychological impotence?" Roget concluded.
My wife was still pulling books from the bookcase. "Were you talking to me?" she asked. I didn't answer.
"Would you like to know the most popular word in 2003?" my friend asked.
"Not really," I mumbled.
"You're right - the word was reality."
"Who are you? How did you accumulate this wealth of knowledge? Tell me about your life," I queried.
Roget began, "I was born in 1779 in Threadneedle Street, London. My father died a few years later, and my mother moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I entered the university at the age of 14. I was graduated with an M.D. from the medical school at the age of 19. In 1802, I went to Geneva, my father's home, with the sons of a wealthy merchant of Manchester, to whom I acted as tutor.
"In 1805, I became physician to the Manchester Infirmary, and made a name for myself there by giving lectures on scientific subjects. I was appointed Examiner in Physiology at the University of London. I wrote various papers on physiology and health.
"I was founder of the Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge, and wrote for it a series of popular manuals. I invented and solved chess problems, and designed a pocket chessboard called the Economic Chessboard.
"In the year 1852, I brought out my Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition. A second edition followed the next year, a third two years later, and still others in the next few years. The work was extended and corrected by my son. The long series of subsequent improved and enlarged editions found its climax in the present Third International."
(Peter Roget died in West Malvern, on Sept. 12, 1869, at the age of 90.)
I gripped my tattered Roget, stunned by the brilliance, integrity and resourcefulness of this remarkable individual. My old Roget has been placed in a sturdy plastic cover to preserve its status as a lifelong friend.
Eli Mason is a past president of the New York State Society of CPAs, a past chairman of the New York State Board for Public Accountancy, and a past vice president of the American Institute of CPAs, as well as a recipient of the American Accounting Association's Exemplar Award. He recently took time off to write his book, Conscience of the Profession - A Personal Journey.
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