Book Review: Roget’s Thesaurus

Figure 1A: Roget's Thesaurus of English words & phrases in a new edition. (photo courtesy of www.amazon.co.uk)

Figure 1A: Roget’s Thesaurus of English words & phrases in a new edition. (photo courtesy of http://www.amazon.co.uk)

Before this review, I wanted to mention something about how this book came to fall into my hands. I was very ill, having been poisoned with spicy, greasy South Asian food and being told it was mild and fine (the equivalent of drinking battery acid and being told it is similar to Tang).

I was at my masjid in North London in London when the phone started ringing. A man on the other end of the phone began speaking English and an Arab brother immediately turned to me (the only Arab in the office that spoke English) and just gave the phone to me.

My tonsils were swollen from the poisoning, I had contracted protruding haemorrhoids on account of it (and my Sri Lankan female Muslim doctor explained that they had to be pushed back in without explaining the excruciating pain involved in the process and then writing out a prescription for Anusol) and it was Ramadan.

I was fasting and would have to wait until iftar to take the tonsil medication (the Egyptian doctor who had looked at my tonsils stressed that I need to bring my fast…that it should be done).

Sitting down was a problem but standing gave me some relief. When I took the phone, I asked him who it was, to which I was given a blank stare and the reply, “La arifsh Ingleezee.” Great, you don’t know English, so I am the pink pony. Once at my ear, I answered, “Allo.” The voice on the other end faltered and I thought I heard weeping.

“Oh, hello there. My name is Anthony Banson and I am in the hospital. As-Salaamu `Alaikum.” I gave a verbal nod and also returned the greeting. He continued on, “I have been in the hospital for some time. The doctors say that I might lose my leg…I don’t want to lose it…you are a masjid and learning centre?” When confirmed as such, he then stated his business.

“Could someone please visit me. No other masjid would send anyone. They said that I would have to contact a chaplain but they wont come either. If I am supposed to die…I don’t want to alone…I don’t want to lose my…” the phone dropped and I could hear him wheezing and crying.

I thought to myself that I didn’t care if his address was near Orion’s Belt, I would have to figure out some way to get there. Sitting down on my tender laurels, I asked for the hospital, the floor and room he was in and gave my word that I would be there as soon as I could.

After hanging up the phone, I turned to one of the Arab brothers and asked if he knew where Whittington Hospital was and he thought he knew. Two other brothers gathered together and off we went. I told my teachers that I would not be there for the day for classes and when they heard the explanation they were supportive (but I still got homework). The heat was amazing outside and my fast felt more difficult. I did not want to miss out and break my fast, although I thought I might have to do so.

When I reached the hospital, the brothers said that they would come back at iftar time with the food and also the details of the classes and what had happened. It had been a long walk from where I was staying and now my tonsils and undercarriage were complaining and wanted me to sit down.

It took a long time to find the front desk as Whittington was so monstrous in size. Finally, I was met with a smiling face who directed me to the stairs and pointed out to me where to get off and which room. Please let me voice be intact. I wondered if I would be present with him in the operating theatre…would I be allowed in at all? When I came into the room, I finally looked upon the man.

A thin, shaken looking white man reclined on his bed and sat up slightly to give me salam. “My name is Dr. Anthony Warren Banson. I am English and I suppose Irish by extraction.” When he asked about me and I mentioned Egypt, his eyes lit up and he immediately started discussing his travels, the mighty Kinanah Tribe (this guy knows his stuff, I thought), being arrested in Jordan, seeing homosexuality in a Muslim prison and doing his first fast in prison in Egypt when he was demonstrating in the street in the 1970s although he was in the military.

His life story made me saddened, depressed, happy, ready to laugh and so many other things. After becoming Muslim, he had chosen to take the name Hasan and he was eager to explain what happened about his marriage, children and everything else.

I grew adventurous and asked him, “So when is your family and such coming?” He looked down and started crying. I had been eager to meet the family that had made this man. “My parents are dead and the rest of the family want nothing to do with me. My children have a very rocky relationship with me since Islam.” Once his tears abated and his breathing resumed normal rates, he told me more.

No Muslims had come to see him. Not one imam. He was surrounded by Muslims on all sides in this city of London and no one came to see him. I felt both shame and anger simultaneously. Looking two beds over from Hasan, I saw a Pakistani nurse giving salam to a fellow countryman in the bed and chatting to him like an old school chum.

Hasan’s medication was summarily dropped on his table without comment, even though it was listed on his papers that he was a Muslim and he had religious paraphernalia that showed he was Muslim hung up. The ailing old man looked at me and then at the nurse and we looked at each other. Right. We get it now.

I looked at him and studied his features more now. He was bold with the exception of the back and sides, salt and pepper hair colour with the wrinkles of life experience tattooed on his face. He had a wrinkle above each eyebrow.

Over the course of time, the hair on his eyebrows had whitened to the point that one could not see the hair unless sat close to him. The wrinkle above each eye brow made him look like he was perpetually raising his eyebrows, in a permanent state of query. His skin was pale but leathery. Hasan Anthony Warren Banson had been in the sun working, as a soldier and as a prisoner and had the marks.

Looking at the leg set for amputation, I could see that it was blue, greenish in colour. So this is what a limb looks like when it has to be amputated. The toenails were rotten and black. Hasan peeled one off for effect. “They’re all going to fall off anyway,” he observed, looking out the window as if speaking of a leg other than his own. One thing he did want to stress was that he had maybe one other option besides this one.

It was risky, but the option to save his leg and not have it lopped off like a tree branch was admirable and well deserved. We prayed together at length and when iftar time came, I had to be woken up as we had both nodded off but Hasan had awoken first. The water and medication was welcome to my throat tubes but the date felt like my throat was being slit – from the INSIDE.

I ignored it and smiled at him. The brothers had come and were socialising well with the injured brother. It took his and our minds off the fact that this operation of amputation – if it went ahead – could be fatal. Complications happened and things went wrong.

Everyone gave hugs at the end of the visit and headed back, with a smiling Hasan asking for us to come again. I came every day until the day he was transferred to Dublin. The procedure he was to undergo was available there and we would know for sure once he was in the hospital there.

His final day with me, the AD 1962 Roget’s Thesaurus was put into my hand, with signature given by Hasan. I gave him two gifts as well, one being a translation of the Qur’an with a guide on rulings on combining prayers when injured and so forth. I gave him another book on patience in times of difficulty.

I didn’t look at the words that brother Hasan had written in the whole melee of activities that involved gift giving, sweet eating, drinking of juices (only those the hospital said would not exacerbate his illness) and socialising with good words.

I kept up with him all the way up to his operation. I spoke with him briefly and he explained to me that he had indeed lost his leg, but kept his life and was living at a modest but nice location. I called after a few weeks to keep up on him and a woman answered the phone.

I laughed to myself. The guy is getting around on one leg and still was able to chase a lady down and marry. A few words into the conversation and the woman explained that she was indeed not a wife but a nurse that would come by the house to check in on him.

I heard the expressions, “infection,” “complications,” “short illness,” “quick burial” and all the adjectives that let me know he was dead. It had been so quick. Just as quick as I had met him he was now gone. After I hung up the phone, I went and read the entry that he had written in the Roget’s Thesaurus he gave me:

To brother Hasan ibn `Umar, by spiritual guide,

From Hasan with heartfelt gratitude for all you did for me.

Yours,

Hasan Warren Banson

Property of Dr. Anthony Warren Banson

kind care of Dr Olivia Connelly

132 Francis St.

Dublin 1

Eire

I smiled to myself and took comfort in the fact that this man had lived a good life, I had the pleasure of meeting him and we had had the opportunity to share laughs, experiences, setbacks and most of all our lives.

Let the reader know that Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases is just right for your bookshelf. I possess the AD 1962 edition but there have been a number of modernisation projects to make it more user friendly. I have surveyed these but for sentimental and old fogey reasons I prefer the older copy; for those not familiar with Roget’s, here are some great points about it,

  1. A thorough index with entries clearly stated
  2. Limited abbreviations so as not to clutter the text
  3. phrasal verb usage and directives on use
  4. A guide in the beginning explaining how to use the book
  5. The book is broken into classes, with class 1 presenting abstract relations

No one should have a bookshelf devoid of such a reference guide. When I listen to people speak, watch them write and see how they carry themselves, I often ask, “I don’t think that guy has a thesaurus.” Vocabulary doesn’t always indicate intelligence and/or education, but it certainly shows the desire for its’ upkeep.

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