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Famous first lines, rewritten with a thesaurus.

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April 29, 2022, 12:36pm

In the exactly 170 years since the first edition of Roget’s thesaurus was published, thesauruses have been a great gift to writers the world over, from frantic high school students trying to subtly change someone else’s words so as not to get caught plagiarizing to poets who have already used “liminal” three times in this 12-line poem.

Though Roget’s book was actually intended to function as a kind of reverse dictionary—and though I’ve heard many a self-important writer claim that actually there’s no such thing as a synonym—I wanted to pay tribute to the invaluable thesaurus on its birthday the best way I know how: by butchering great literature. Here are some famous lines, given the (Merriam-Webster) thesaurus treatment:

• Clepe [archaic] me Ishmael.

• All tickled families are alike; each droopy family is hangdog in its own way.

• Emma Woodhouse, aesthetic, supersmart, and loaded, with a cornucopian home and chuffed disposition, seemed to unite some of the best mitzvahs of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to weird her out or burn her up.

• It was a bizarro, damp summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

• As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from hinky dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a king-sized insect.

• A kveching came across the sky.

• It was the crème de la crème of times, it was the bush-league of times, it was the age of horse sense, it was the age of baloney, it was the epoch of notion, it was the epoch of unbelief, it was the season of Cockcrow, it was the season of Murk, it was the spring of perkiness, it was the winter of mopes, we had everything before us, we had goose egg before us, we were all going direct to New Jerusalem, we were all going direct the other way…

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