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Who’s That Man? (hint: famous depressed/OCD human)

Do you like playing guessing games? I sure do. What do you say we give one a go. The question – and even a hint – is in the title, so I’ll let the story unfold and you see if you can come up with who I’m writing about. This ought to be fun.

No fair scrolling to the bottom!

The man we’ll call our mystery guest (MG) was an amazing British physician, scientist, and lexicographer born in London in 1779. His early years were incredibly difficult, to say the least. His dominating mother endured severe depression with psychotic features, and his sister suffered from emotional and mental distress.

His wife and father died at an early age. And, traumatic beyond words, his uncle took his life by slitting his throat; MG doing all he cold to pull the razor from his hand.

MG was studying medicine at the time and was treating his uncle. The suicide ended MG’s medical career. It seems his uncle was a highly respected and popular member of the English Parliament, and MG was held accountable for his death.

Interesting – MG was a boyhood neighbor of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for a brief period of time.

MG was one sharp hombre. In 1815, he invented the log-log slide rule, which was used for exponential and root calculations. Though a paper he wrote explaining the illusion of motion was likely incorrect; his work turned out to be an important development in the history of film.

MG made an important breakthrough in optics with his work on how the retina perceives images.

He was a master at solving chess problems and designed a very affordable pocket chessboard.

And he played a pivotal role in the founding of the University of London.

As a boy, MG began making elaborate lists and categorized most everything. Some believe these behaviors were coping and comforting mechanisms for his depressive (melancholia, in those days) symptoms. Others maintain they were likely the manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Based upon MGs diaries and letters, his descriptions of new places were delivered in lists of details, in lieu of some sort of feeling narrative. And he believed keeping count of the exact number of items at an event equated to a quality description.

Finally, his perception of most everything was in terms of black or white – good or bad.

MG actually began work on the publication for which he’s best known when he was 26. And it was organized in a very interesting manner. MG didn’t arrange things in alphabetical order. Rather, he used a systematic approach in helping people find specific words, phrases, and idioms to express a concept.

This was an incredibly clever and valuable methodology because it eliminated the need for thumbing through the entire alphabet in a reference publication. What a time-saver for someone looking for just the right word or expression.

To this day the vast majority of users of MGs publication really have no clue as to the reasoning behind its organization. It simply works, and that’s all that matters.

Though MG began work on his publication when he was 26, he didn’t truly develop it until he was almost 70. It was a retirement project, if you will. And it first went to press in 1852. When it came time to name his publication, MG chose a word from the Greek and Latin for treasury or storehouse.

It was an immediate smash in Great Britain; however, it didn’t become popular in the United States until the 1920s. That’s when Americans went nutso over crossword puzzles.

Oh – that word for treasury or storehouse? Thesaurus!

And now the cat’s out of the bag. MG is…

Peter Mark Roget

By the way, Roget never intended for his thesaurus to be a book of synonyms. He didn’t believe in them, because he felt each word had a unique meaning. Again, his intention was to provide a way to find the best word or phrase for a concept. And he wanted to push his readers to reason along the way.

Fun game, chipur readers? Feel free to share some comments…

  • Patricia Miller

    There is no way to avoid looking at our “negative characteristics” and seeing something posiitve with this story in mind :-)

    • Thanks, Patricia. I enjoy such characters from the past – and writing about them. You’re such a loyal participant. Bill