I absolutely love words. Verbiage. Mote. Tong. Calyx. Fescue. My favorite graphical literary character of all time is Archibald Haddock, not just because I ship him hard, but also because he sent me scampering to the dictionary as a child to find out exactly what a bashi-bazouk is (a non-uniformed solider in the Ottoman army). Writing gives me a chance to use captivating words, and to learn new ones, but I had a collection of thesauri long before I crafted a line of fiction.
If you are a word nerd too, here are my favorite thesauri and dictionaries. I rec them all.
Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary
McCutcheon gives categories like weapons, weather, electronics, finance, language, anatomy, music, religions etc and lists a bunch of words and their meanings related to each area. Did you know a skean is a type of Irish dagger? Or that social Darwinism is the belief that genetically superior people rise to the top of a social group? It also includes lists of WWII slang (a gilligen hitch is an imaginary knot in a rope) and 40 pages of “Words you should know”; e.g. what ‘according to Hoyle’ or ‘catch-22’ mean, and what a Cassandra is.
A magical, engrossing book exploring words relating to landscapes. Words like blinter: a cold dazzle, as of ice splinters catching low light. Warning: McFarlane will have you adding travel and landscape books to your to-be-read pile at a treacherous rate.
Much like the Descriptionary, this collects words in thematic categories, but includes topics like drug abuse, violence, the occult, and death. Don’t make me choose between them. I won’t do it. You can only buy this second hand. It’s worth tracking down a copy.
The Dorling Kindlersley Ultimate Visual Dictionary
I’m on my third hardback copy of this one. The edition with the illustration of a dissected human head on the cover? My daughter read that to rags. She was the only kid in first grade who knew whales fed using baleen, and what a pediment was.
Every single word in here needs to be used daily. Currently in Auckland we are at quafftide: the time of drinking. You know when you spend too long in the bath and your fingers get wrinkly? They’re quobbled. A large, red, angry pimple, the kind you want to pop? A pimginnit. It is our duty to pull these terms from the lost word office and cherish them like foster-puppies.
Marina Calderone & Maggie Lloyd-Williams
This one totally is for writing. It’s verbs. Just verbs. The book is designed – and this will be no surprise – for actors. The introductory text explains, “Start by clarifying what your character wants: their objective. Then choose a transitive verb for each sentence which helps the character achieve that objective . . . . try the action out. Drop your action in, speak your line now invested with your action.” Replace acting with writing. I use this all the time to help me determine what my characters want to achieve, and how I can write the actions of the scene to help them communicate this to the reader. When I feel stuck, reading it gives me a jump start into the purpose of the scene. Hahahaha, I write that like I have a clue about writing. I don’t. I ‘m just learning. But still, this helps.
I only this second realized this is edited by the author of The Descriptionary. No wonder I love it. It’s my go-to thesaurus. I also own a regular Roget and a Penguin Pocket Thesarus, but this is my baby and it lives on my desk. I have bought many copies as gifts because people borrow it and never want to return it. I’m not letting it out of my sticky hands again.
Have I missed any? What’s your favorite word book I should check out?
As always, there are no affiliate links on my blog. If I recommend a book it’s because I love it and I want to share my compulsion to fill every cranny of my home with dead trees. It’s a virus. Or maybe it’s closer to a symbiotic bacterium, because all of these enrich my life.