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.
Random House Word Menu
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.
Actions: The Actors’ Thesarus
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.
Roget’s Super Thesaurus
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.