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Dr Roget’s 990 lists

Roget's Thesaurus is more than just a book about words—and the story of its author's often unhappy life provides a suggestive counterpoint to its complexities

Peter Mark Roget, the future Linnaus of the English word, began compiling word-lists at the age of eight. Why was he not playing with other children, honing his social skills? The problem was his mother, a widow at 28, who drained her son of sympathy. Catherine Romilly gave birth to a wonderful, handsome, talented boy , but couldn’t let him be himself. Independence, he would write in his Thesaurus under list 744, equals freedom of action, unilaterality; freedom of choice, initiative. But for freedom see also non-liability, disobedience, seclusion and liberation: the way one insists on freedom in the face…

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