The love of words, the words of love | Opinion

Lowell H Young

“Measured on the vast scale of the universe, the globe we inhabit appears but as an atom; and yet within the compass of this atom, what an inexhaustible variety of objects is contained; what an endless diversity of phenomena is presented; what wonderful changes are occurring in rapid and perpetual succession!” — Peter Roger

During her 30+ year career at St. Helena’s Main Street Books, my wife, Christie, became an accomplished book whisperer who had an uncanny talent of matching readers with authors in a mystical way. I was most likely the primary beneficiary of her skill de ella as she supplied me with scores of books that celebrate the physical, mental and spiritual interconnectedness of the fantastic world of “biology.”

This was the case when she discovered a gem of a children’s book which can delight adults as well. “The Right Word: Roger and His Thesaurus” was written by Jen Bryant and beautifully illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Roget was a post-renaissance British physician, thinker, natural theologian, lexicographer, seeker, inventor and scientist. He understood that there were no scientific answers for the origin of the universe or the origin of life and was dedicated to celebrating the blessed mystery of it all.

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For 37 years I had the challenge of using words to communicate with students. Working with foreign exchange students showed me that many idioms and expressions were so deeply embedded in ethos that they could not be translated into another language. At the age of eight, Peter Roget began to understand this and started compiling words in groups of synonyms and related concepts to help him find the best possible way to communicate the message he wanted to impart. Over 40 million copies of his thesaurus have been sold and we kept a copy in the biology lab for ready reference.

“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus” is a delight of information about Roget. He spent 50 years collecting words for his thesaurus of him and was 73 when the first edition was published. Fifty years ago, I began collecting “Quotable Quotes” from Reader’s Digest magazine. That humble beginning grew into a collection of scores of books and essays from John Muir, Loren Eiseley, Henry Thoreau, RW Emerson, Black Elk, Louis Agassiz, Annie Dillard, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Diane Ackerman, Edward Abbey, Dr. Scott Peck, Louis Thomas, Dr Roger Sperry, John Steinbeck, Gretel Ehrlich et al.

Our library included a copy of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations,” “The Great Thoughts” by George Seldes, and a cornucopia of quotes from scientists, sages, saints, sinners and philosophers. I was nearly 70 years old when “Biodesign Out For A Walk” was published.

We both shared a deep love for the pure essence of being human and understood that certain words like love, spirit, soul, the-spark-of-life and God defy definition.

The origin and application of the word “love” is perhaps the most beguiling and enigmatic of all. According to Chaim Bentorah’s “Hebrew Word Study: The Many Faces Of Love,” there are 12 different words for “love” in the Hebrew language, each with a specific meaning. The Greek language includes “eros” “philos” and “agape” to describe sexual, brotherly and spiritual love. “Making” love can include the sordid behavior of a prostitute or by adding “motherly” can refer to the unspeakably tender bond of mother to child. Rumi noted: “We are born of love; love is our mother.” According to Google, there are 90 references in the Bible that claim, “God is love.” Erich Fromm (“The Art of Loving”) claimed that love is the only satisfactory explanation for human existence. In the current edition of Roget’s Thesaurus, there are 50 references to various kinds of love.

Albert Einstein offered, “Love is a better teacher than duty.”

Holistic anthropologist Loren Eiseley (“The Immense Journey”) opined that modern scientists have become “intoxicated by their success” and inferred that they are spiritually blinded by their egos.

And perhaps the greatest scientist of the world, Isaac Newton, wrote, “We account the Scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy. I find more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history whatever.”

Roget saw the Earth as an “atom” and would appreciate the metaphor: “The Earth is an atom in the circulatory system of God.” Anon.

Blessings in this Easter Season.

Lowell H. Young is the author of “Biodesign Out For A Walk.” He lives in St. Helena. This originally appeared on his blog,


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