A thesaurus is a reference work that lists words grouped together according to similarity of meaning (containing synonyms and sometimes antonyms), in contrast to a dictionary, which contains definitions and pronunciations. The largest thesaurus in the world is the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, which contains more than 920,000 words.
History and use of term
In antiquity, Philo of Byblos authored the first text that could now be called a thesaurus. In Sanskrit, the Amarakosha is a thesaurus in verse form, written in the 4th century. The first example of the modern genre, Roget's Thesaurus, was compiled in 1805 by Peter Mark Roget, and published in 1852. Entries in Roget's Thesaurus are listed conceptually rather than alphabetically.
Although including synonyms, a thesaurus should not be taken as a complete list of all the synonyms for a particular word. The entries are also designed for drawing distinctions between similar words and assisting in choosing exactly the right word. Unlike a dictionary, a thesaurus entry does not define words.
The word "thesaurus" is derived from 16th-century New Latin, in turn from Latin thesaurus, which is the romanization of the Greek θησαυρός (thēsauros), literally "treasure store", generally meaning a collection of things which are of big importance or value (and thus the medieval rank of thesaurer was a synonym for treasurer). This meaning has been largely supplanted by Roget's usage of the term.
Thesauri in IT
In Information Science, Library Science, and Information Technology, specialized thesauri are designed for information retrieval. They are a type of controlled vocabulary, for indexing or tagging purposes. Such a thesaurus can be used as the basis of an index for online material. The Art and Architecture Thesaurus, for example, is used to index the Canadian national database of museums, Artifacts Canada, held by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN).
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