Descriptionary - A Thematic Dictionary
Author: Marc McCutcheon
Publisher: Checkmark Books, 2000
This book could have been designed for cryptic clue solvers! 'Markswoman gets you into baseball game free'. Well, the clue mentions 'baseball'. Look up 'baseball' (it's in the 'Sports' section) and find all sorts of words connected with the game, including 'Annie Oakley' (a free pass to a game, apparently).
You know the old conundrum about dictionaries? If you don't know a word, how can you look it up? Well, this is a back-to-front dictionary. Ordinary dictionaries give you the meaning when you look up a word; this one gives you the word when you look up the meaning. It's a brilliant idea, but I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to set about creating one. This one seems to work; it's surprising how often you can fit your missing word into a category, which is the entry point for your search. There is an amazing amount of information in this book, and it's not difficult to find your way around.
Categories range from Animals and Insects and Architecture to Transportation and Weapons. Each category is subdivided and often subdivided again, so that Architecture includes Religious Buildings which in turn includes Cemeteries, Tombs and Monuments. The Contents pages are clear and helpful, backed up by a comprehensive index at the end (which of course works like an ordinary dictionary - you have to know the word first to use the index!). Oddly, there is a section at the end called '1050 Words and Expressions you should know'. Both the substance of this section and its inclusion at all strike me as a little puzzling - and a little patronising. But never mind - they are useful enough words and phrases, and they don't do any harm.
Sadly, it is American (sorry, no insult intended to our American readers, but this does give it a slight bias towards Americana and, in some categories, American terms and spellings), but it is nevertheless an ingenious and invaluable book. Mine is dog-eared and covered with coffee stains. I always think that's the sign of a good book.
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