Internet search with highly inflected languages

I tend to wake up early.  One of the things that I do with my free time in the morning is study French.  Today I was flipping through a dictionary and ran across the word thésauriser.  “How nice,” I thought—“a verb about putting things in a thesaurus.”  Wrong—thésauriser is an intransitive verb meaning “to hoard money,” or a transitive verb meaning “to hoard.”

Having come across such a weird and wonderful verb, I  wondered whether or not it actually gets used.  Being a 21st-century corpus linguist, I turned to Google.
One of the huge shifts in corpus linguistics, loosely definable as the study of language using naturally occurring data (as opposed to, say, making up illustrative sentences from your own head), is the availability of huge amounts of searchable texts on the Internet, typically via Google.

One of the “problems” with using Google as a corpus search tool these days is that it will often give you links to definitions of a word, rather than examples of actual usage.  So, the first couple of pages of results were links to definitions.  However, this list also included a link to, a web site that gives you proverbs that use your word of interest.  Here I found Qui sait économiser, sait thésauriser, and
A thésauriseur, héritier gaspilleur.  Translating a proverb is risky in any language, but even without a translation, we can note that the verb is, indeed, intransitive in these uses—you don’t explicitly use the word “money.”  (If any bilingual French/English speakers would like to chip in translations in the comments, it would be much appreciated!)

One of the first links is actually to a French Wikipedia entry for the nominalization thésaurisation, which is explained as a technical term in economics: La thésaurisation est un terme technique économique décrivant une accumulation de monnaie pour en tirer un profit ou par absence de meilleur emploi, et non par principe d’économie ou d’investissement productif.

The site informs me that it is a valid French Scrabble word, and gives a long list of inflections that can be added to it, as well as a list of of smaller valid Scrabble words that can be made from its letters.

Yet another site,, gives a list of words that rhyme with it.

If you’ve been following the links so far, you’ve noted that in my attempts to find actual examples of usage, as opposed to metalinguistic information, I’ve been drifting away from the infinitive thésauriser and searching for inflected forms–mostly unsuccessfully (in that I’m still getting metalinguistic stuff).  So, how do I find actual examples of usage?  I tried searching on inflected forms that I thought might have lower frequencies and/or be less likely to be headings for their own entries in sites like the proverb-finding, rhyme-finding, definition-finding, etc. sites.  The third person plural present tense thésaurisent got me to a YouTube video titled Ceux qui THESAURISENT DETRUISENT l INTERET GENERAL et ce n est PAS BANAL (“Those who hoard, destroy the public good, and that’s not trite”–in French, it sort of rhymes). My French is definitely not good enough to understand the poor audio on the videotaped monologue (which I’m not actually sure is entirely in French), so I can’t say whether it’s insightful, or insane ramblings. A link to a footnote in The papers of Alexander Hamilton on Google Books finds me Cet example frappant peut s’appliquer à tous les hommes industrieux, depuis l’artiste célebre ou le chef de manufacture qui thésaurisent peut-être dix milles francs chaque année, jusqu’à l’artisan grossier qui n’épargne qu’un écu.   Note that here it’s not intransitive, and a specific amount of money is named.

So, I’ve been investigating this verb for about 45 minutes, and still have only found two actual examples of usage on Google.  Any suggestions on Googling in French would be much appreciated!  (I should add that the Text Retrieval Conference sponsored a set of experiments on information retrieval in Spanish some years ago, and if memory serves, they concluded that the techniques that work for not-so-highly-inflected English work just as well on fairly-highly-inflected Spanish.  However, information retrieval is not corpus linguistics.)


1 thought on “Internet search with highly inflected languages”

  1. A couple of thoughts off the top of my head:
    (1) The proverb “A thesauriseur…” reminds me of the American expression “Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations”. The idea being that the first generation of businesspeople is poor, hence, in shirt sleeves to build the business, The next are spendthrifts, which leaves the third back in shirt sleeves. (I haven’t heard it in years, however.)
    (2) I don’t like the translation of “banal” as “trite” in “Ceux qui thesaurisent…”. I would prefer “uncommon” or “unusual”.


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