Blog Excerpts

To a Thesaurus

Franklin P. Adams, a regular at the Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s and '30s, was a master of comic verse. His best-known work is no doubt "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," an ode to the Chicago Cubs double-play combination of "Tinker to Evers to Chance." The blog Futility Closet brings to our attention another playful ode by Adams that's right up our alley: "To a Thesaurus."

O precious code, volume, tome,
Book, writing, compilation, work,
Attend the while I pen a pome,
A jest, a jape, a quip, a quirk.

For I would pen, engross, indite,
Transcribe, set forth, compose, address,
Record, submit—yea, even write
An ode, an elegy to bless—

To bless, set store by, celebrate,
Approve, esteem, endow with soul,
Commend, acclaim, appreciate,
Immortalize, laud, praise, extol

Thy merit, goodness, value, worth,
Experience, utility—
O manna, honey, salt of earth,
I sing, I chant, I worship thee!

How could I manage, live, exist,
Obtain, produce, be real, prevail,
Be present in the flesh, subsist,
Have place, become, breathe or inhale

Without thy help, recruit, support,
Opitulation, furtherance,
Assistance, rescue, aid, resort,
Favour, sustention, and advance?

Alack! Alack! and well-a-day!
My case would then be dour and sad,
Likewise distressing, dismal, gray,
Pathetic, mournful, dreary, bad.

Though I could keep this up all day,
This lyric, elegiac, song,
Meseems hath come the time to say
Farewell! Adieu! Good-by! So long!

— Franklin P. Adams, collected in Carolyn Wells, The Book of Humorous Verse, 1920

Adams was no doubt spoofing writers who spent too much time with their noses in Roget's, a frequent source of ridicule that Roget biographer Joshua Kendall told us about (see our interview with Kendall, "Roget's Legacy: Thesaurus as Tool, Thesaurus as Crutch"). But for revealing the unexpected joys of synonymy, this surely deserves a place in the Thesaurus Pantheon alongside Johnny Carson's "Funeral for a Thesaurus Editor" sketch.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday January 26th 2010, 8:40 AM
Comment by: Mary C A.
I think everyone who writes has at least one of these.
I don't even have a title for mine.

Words mundane and words with a bang,
Sibilants sneak, diphthongs clang
Words that creep and words that pound
Vowels in the middle with consonants around
Trying for rhymes with words that just don’t,
Sentence that sings, in a story that won’t.
Sonnet or haiku; limerick or riddle!
Starting and ending, but never a middle.

Down the pages they march like soldiers;
Out of my head and across my shoulders
Down to my toes, on a literary caper.
Look for a pen and a blank sheet of paper.
Letter and word and sentence, yeah, those!
I’m trying to organize them into prose.
Remember with words, you’re the sole navigator
The source, the lone builder, in short, the creator.

Sounding and pounding and leaping ahead;
Editing, checking and marking in red.
Scolding, unfolding, disclosing, concealing,
Find your best voice and begin the revealing;
Phrases tell little, while sentences gather,
Paragraphs organize all of that blather,
Put them together to make a good tale,
Write a good essay? The check’s in the mail.
Where do they come from, these words that resound?
They come from within, then emerge without sound?
Where are they going, just round and around?
Or will they by agents and readers be found?
Never say ‘never,’ the words are all free;
Pull out the keyboard and boot the PC.

Oh, yes, there's more, but this is enough for now.
Tuesday January 26th 2010, 3:05 PM
Comment by: mac
sounds, Mary C A,
as tho you are on a journey.
no penny here for your thoughts;
i'll write you out a check
Tuesday January 26th 2010, 10:16 PM
Comment by: Mary C A.
Thanks, mac, make it a large check.
Saturday January 14th 2012, 10:05 AM
Comment by: Priyam (Ahmedabad, India)
i am commenting without reading; it sounds good!

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