103 Comments
Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

I bet most of us aired our frustration when we entered a “vicious circle.” But I was OLD before I discovered there was a such a thing as a “virtuous circle”—to me, it’s like you do good and pay it forward to create a circle of good. Once you have the vocabulary for it, you tend to believe in it and try to promote the virtuous circle.

Likewise, the German word “schadenfreude.” How many of us secretly practiced this only to learn we weren’t the only one? I just recently learned there’s the opposite! It’s freudenfreude. It means to take pleasure in the good that happens to others. It’s been thrilling to practice this actively and double the joy that is in the universe. I believe that we are all One. Wish good upon others and you’re actually wishing good upon yourself. How cool is that!!? That’s what I’m going to cultivate. The reap what you have sown idea from that five letter word book.

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

My favourite reference book is Roget's for sure. I had a copy for my 18th birthday and I used it through my twenties as a thesaurus. But the best application I found for it was unexpected: it came in super handy when I was breastfeeding; I used to rest my feet on it at the sofa as a little footstool. It was the perfect height to support my posture - and as a result is now very scuffed and well-loved!

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

I love encyclopedias. The actual books. They remind me of my childhood. I don’t even know how we came to have a set. We weren’t wealthy and they were expensive. But I can still spend hours just flicking through the pages. I’m intrigued by this idea of opposing pages and now I need to think about that some more too. Thank you for posts. I always come away with something to ponder. This is seriously one of the best gifts my kids ever gave me!

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

The first reference type book I can think of is my thrifted copy of The Merriam-Webster and Garfield Dictionary. Which is pretty much what it sounds like, a dictionary but with Garfield comics scattered throughout. I love it.

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Strunk and White - Elements of Style. An incredible read - a few years ago they published an edition delightfully illustrated by Maira Kalman. Also - not really a reference book but what about Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny? Definitely a system of classifiers and also delightfully issued as a graphic edition with illustrations by Nora Krug.

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

When Andrew Sean Greer visited Boswell Books last September, he was so charming in response to a question about how he knows all of the wonderful words he uses. He said, “Oh I don’t know those words!” He sang the praises of his vintage thesaurus, “NOT the dictionary kind.” I found a 1962 version at our local used store to give to my aspiring writer spousal equivalent for Christmas. Then I was jealous when I consulted it, so just yesterday a 1945 version was delivered from eBay. It must be the year of the thesaurus.

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

This is fascinating to me, as a lover of both words and systems. I admit that I feel a little guilty now, about my unabashed love for The Synonym Finder, which is an alphabetical thesaurus. But, in its defense, I feel like it always has a lot of options for words. It goes *deep* in a way no online thesaurus does and as a writer I appreciate that. I find using it fun, like a treasure hunt. I can usually think of a word that’s tangentially related to the one I want and then I keep going, letting one section lead me to another. It works well for me.

I always pooh-poohed Roget’s in comparison. But now that I understand the thought and systematizing behind Roget’s, I stand in admiration. Thanks for the geekout!

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My *favorite* reference book may be Randall Munroe’s The Thing Explainer. It also has a list of the 1000 most common words in English that he used to write the book.

For a long period, etymological dictionaries were my go-to work to make sense of the world. E.g. Kluge (German).

Currently the reference work I use the most is jisho.org, an English-Japanese dictionary. It’s a lot easier (for me) to use than any paper Japanese dictionary. I love looking up the meanings of kanji and the bits that make them up. How to write them is right there, too.

The first reference work I created myself was a Star Trek baby name book, in the summer after the 4th grade.

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

Oh wonderful. On other reference books The prof who first believed in me as a scholar made me get a copy of Roget's for my desk, &, my now favourite reference book, Fowler's Modern English Usage (I was instructed to leave it in the loo and read a page a day!) The early editions are wonderfully odd to 21st century eyes (like Roget's) eg all punctuation is under the title 'stops'. But being a kid of the 70s in Aotearoa New Zealand I wasnt taught grammar (love the linguists who decided for us that it wasn't necessary for us to have common language structures, such elitism on their part) so it was Fowler's that taught me my how to convey ideas in writing.

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

Austin, thank you so much for this! My parents still have their old copy of Roget’s Thesaurus (later than 1911 but still the identical format), which I sometimes used during high school for more decades ago than I’d care to admit, lol... The funny thing is, after using thesaurus_com for the last 20+ years I had forgotten Roget’s brilliant taxonomy of words, which is so much more - not less - useful than ever before! Thanks again 😃

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I had no idea about the original structure of Roget's. So cool! A fave ref book: Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape edited by Barry Lopez. Beautiful definitions by different poets and writers on elements of land and water. I love to drop in for random inspiration.

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I was making a pattern with a cursive letter f. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t remember how to make the letter, f’s became j’s and whaaaa? 😵‍💫What weird phenomenon. Which reminds me of the word wired which is what happens on my device when I spell weird wrong. I am developing an art project and I needed a reminder to look up words and definitions and spiral on... spiral on friends! Spiral on Garth!

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

I love this piece, Austin. Sent it on to five people--including a brother who is undergoing major cancer treatment. I want to encourage him to consider the fun of making lists, as Roget did, when he's in recovery period.

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Talk about a side project!

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Thanks for this great introduction. As a non-native speaker of the English language, I had certainly heard the term Thesaurus before but I had never used one. Googling this shortly I wasn't able to find something similar for the German language. Anyone here happen to know if such a thing exists in other languages and in particular in German?

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Feb 7, 2023Liked by Austin Kleon

Omg, thank you for this. I remembered a strange used volume I also bought on a whim and have rarely cracked but felt deep affection for...I just pulled it down and it is a 1927 edition of Roget's, as revised into the "international thesaurus" by C. O. Sylvester Mawson! So beautiful, and with curved indentations for the index on the outer edge, like an old christian bible. If I knew how to attach a photo, I would.

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