Today, a client who I built a video-on-demand server farm for said that we need to call our “video” service something else because every time he talks about it in meeting full of old school faculty and administrators, they keep thinking he is talking about VHS tapes, despite the whole context of his presentation being about education over the internet. There isn’t much I can do about this of course, but I told him I’d dust off my Roget’s Thesaurus.
Billy Collins wrote a poem about this odd sort of reference book.
It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.
It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundred of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed, and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.
Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by find shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
asterognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.
I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble wit their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.
I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.