The 22 categories of words used in Carl Darling Buck's "A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages" (1949) are quite different from for instance the categories in Roget's thesaurus as of 1911. There is no background in the book itself on how the 22 categories where chosen. Did Buck make the list himself or was he following some (undocumented?) tradition?

Buck's categories are used in at least two other projects, IDS and WOLD, which attribute the categories to Buck. It is a little odd that the history of this categorization-scheme seems to be missing.

  • 1
    They could easily have started with Buck. Where did Roget's categories come from?
    – Mitch
    Oct 3 '11 at 13:32
  • Books have been written about how Roget struggled with those categories, so I consider those to be documented. I want something like that for the Buck-categories though preferably not pop-sci.
    – kaleissin
    Oct 3 '11 at 13:38
  • I've updated the links. It seems a lot of linguistic databases are moving to CLLD these days.
    – kaleissin
    Nov 17 '18 at 15:03

I haven't read his Introduction for a while, but that's where I'd start. If he doesn't deal with it there, I can't help you,

however, you should be aware

  • that these are all pretty standard categories in natural meaning categorizations, like PIE roots, Levin's verb lists, classifier systems, phonosemantics, etc.


  • that no linguist I know is very concerned about where Buck got his 22 categories. 22 is not an unreasonable number: if it works, use it; if it doesn't, ignore it. Certainly one can use more or fewer categories; there's nothing sacred about 22 the way there is about, say, 42.
  • They had to come from somewhere. I'm concerned about it because I am a perfectionist, I don't like loose, hanging threads.
    – kaleissin
    Nov 12 '11 at 11:03
  • 1
    I downvoted this as it's not an answer. It would have been reasonable as a comment. Nov 12 '11 at 12:40
  • 1
    Alas, the link has eroded away.
    – amI
    Nov 15 '18 at 10:54
  • @GastonÜmlaut. Sometimes the answer is that there is no answer.
    – fdb
    Nov 17 '18 at 20:25

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