The subtitle of Descriptionary says it's "the book for when you know what it is, but not what it's called." Pretty useful, eh? But that description is also a bit limiting, as this handy reference guide can be just as easily used as a standard dictionary when you do know what the word is. Rather than the alphabetical arrangement found in dictionaries and thesauruses, the words here are grouped according to general categories, such as animal and insects, food and drink, the human body and mind, and occupations. Within these broad areas are subheadings--"environment" has been divided into 30 categories ranging from atmosphere to wind. The word listings in these short sections are alphabetical, and while each has a straightforward explanation, you won't find alternative spellings, a pronunciation guide, or any of those dictionary-standard accompaniments to the definition.
So why use this instead of a standard dictionary? Mainly, in order to take advantage of the unusual word arrangement, as it can operate most efficiently when you're writing a paper about a specific topic. Civics students looking up "malfeasance" will find on the same page a variety of words that may spark new ideas and instantly increase practical vocabulary, as any words that catch your eye will be closely related to the topic at hand. Also great for students is the "1,050 Words and Expressions You Should Know" chapter--from "ad hoc" to "zealous," it covers words used regularly in magazines, newspapers, and textbooks. Adults learning a new skill or deciphering current events will find that the sections function nicely as a glossary; the sections on sports, politics, gardening, and cooking are especially helpful in this manner. --Jill Lightner
At last, here's a reference book that works the way the mind works, allowing students to locate that elusive word to the specific thing, e.g., What do you call that belt for a tuxedo? Answer: Cummerbund. "This book is one of those small wonders...Highly recommended." -- THE BOOK REPORT.
a useful resource
By Audrey on Sep 10, 2001
The organization of this dictionary is unique and mostly successful. I set myself a task of trying to "find" seven items: igneous rock, a Nehru jacket, plie, onomatopoeia, ballast and cream. Finding a category called Environment led to a subcategory of Geology which was 3 pages long -- it took about 30 seconds to find "igneous". Looking under Clothing and then right on to the Jackets subcategory, I was able to find "Nehru jacket" in about ten seconds. Performing Arts and Broadcasting led to a subcategory of Dance and a sub-subcategory of Ballet which was 2 pages long -- it took only 12 seconds to find "plie". A category called Words About Words was 8 pages long -- trying to find "onomatopoeia" here, if you didn't know what letter it started with, was time-consuming; still, it was easier than finding it in a standard dictionary! It was surprisingly easy to find "ballast", found under Transportation and located in the short listing under the sub-category Aviation, sub-subcategory Aircraft and sub-sub-subcategory Balloons. Finally, trying to find out about the layers of milk to find "cream" was unsuccessful. Looking under Animals and then the subcategory Livestock I found only a list of dairy cattle breeds, and looking in the index at the back under "dairy" and "milk" I found nothing applicable, though I did look up "milk-kneading" and "milk-teeth" when I ran across them just out of curiosity. And that is a positive feature -- that this dictionary, like many good reference tools, allows and even encourages serendipitous forays into its contents. There is a very inclusive alphabetical index at the back, in case you don't know where to begin in an organizational map such as the Contents. This reference tool's flaws are most likely due to the author's interests or weaknesses. For instance, while Sports gets a whopping 70 pages, the Food section is only 8 pages long and divided into four subcategories, one of which is French cooking terms and the other three are about liquor! A science category per se is not present, though human biology can be found under Medicine, some information will be found under Animals, and a fair amount of information is available under Environment, though you would be hard-pressed to find any mention of chemistry or physics here. Another weakness is the absence of pronunciation or usage guides in any but the '1,050 Words and Expressions You Should Know' section. In addition, one is basically limited to nouns. That given, there should be pictures, which would make identification much quicker, particularly in sections like Tools. All in all, this is a very useful resource with some limitations, and I recommend it.
A great resource for writers.
By Alina M. Hensley on Feb 09, 2008
Pardon my bluntness, but this book is fantastic to have around when you're having a 'brain fart'. I found my copy at a thrift store about five years ago, but having just this evening needed to pull it out for an answer, I thought I'd post a review about how indispensable it's been to me over the years. It's a great book if you're clueless and you need to sound like you know what you're talking about. I wrote a story once about army doctors and the "Military" and "Medicine" sections were my bible during that time. I wrote a story about pirates and the "Naval" and "Sailing" sections were my go to, then. Just tonight I was writing a description of an attic and couldn't remember what those little windows that stick out of sloping roofs are called. I flipped to the "Architecture" section and within maybe ten seconds, after skimming two pages, I had my answer. Dormer windows. They're called dormer windows. Thank you, Descriptionary!
Simple and Straight-Forward
By Deborah A. Woehr on Feb 10, 2001
This dictionary is simple to understand and broadly categorized. If you are looking for an obscure term, such as in the occult, then this isn't the book to buy. Word Menu is still my first choice because it covers more topics in more detail. Descriptionary has one feature that I found attractive. At the back is a section, titled "1,050 Words and Expressions You Should Know".
Reverse look-up for specific words
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann on Nov 03, 2003
This "descriptionary" is based on the premise that sometimes we know the function of an object but not its name. McCutcheon has thus divided his book into categories, not much different in theory from the traditional thesaurus structure. For instance, if you want to know the word for the paw motion cats and kittens do that looks like kneading, you look up first the main section on "Animals," then the subcategory "Cats", and finally find the word: "milk-treading." The main categories are broad, including finance, clothing, weapons, sports, and many others. My main complaint is that it is not comprehensive enough. I would like to see a volume twice as thick so I would have a greater chance of finding the word I wanted. Despite its flaws, DESCRIPTIONARY offers word help when it is most needed.
It's on the tip of my tongue...
By Frkurt Messick on Jun 25, 2003
De.scrip.tion.ary, n., a big book of words arranged in a common sense order designed to help the reader find an unknown word. Similar to dictionary and thesaurus, with key differences. Many times, people have the word just on the tip of their tongues, but cannot find the word. Dictionaries are often no help in such instances. Despite the wealth of information contained therein, and the imminently logical organisation (the same goes for a thesaurus), often what is needed is more of a reverse directory. Indeed, comedians past and present have made entire routines out of the difficulties of using a dictionary (how does one look up the spelling of a word if one doesn't know how to spell it?). While these difficulties have doubtless been exaggerated, there is definitely room on the reference shelf for a book such as the Descriptionary, a wonderful resource for finding just the right word from a definition. `A standard dictionary will tell you the meaning of a word, a thesaurus will give you a list of synonyms, but only Descriptionary directs you straight to the word itself.' The Descriptionary is arranged thematically. These themes are developed and arranged by broad category, narrowing the field of research for any given word search. Under each broad theme, there are literally thousands of words. The definitions are not lengthy, but just of sufficient length to permit identification. - Animals and Insects - Architecture - Clothing - Electronics - Environment - Finance - Food and Drink - Human Body and Mind - Language - Law - Magic and the Occult - Medicine - Military - Music - Occupations - Performing Arts - Religions - Sports - Tools - Transportation - Weapons However, thousands of words per category would still make for a daunting task of location of just the right word. Therefore, each major theme is broken into smaller sections, and yet smaller subsections. Take, for instance, the organisation under the heading Religions: Religions ..Ancient Religions ....Ancient Egyptian Worship ....Greek and Roman Mythology ....Monsters and Fabulous Creatures ..Modern Religions ....Buddhism ....Christianity ....Hinduism ....Islam ....Judaism Perhaps it will be your dharma to forget the term for enlightenment (under Buddhism, nirvana), or perhaps your searching requires some cutting edge information (under Judaism, see mohel). You needn't be gifted in speaking in tongues (glossolalia, under Christianity) to find the right word here. Each subsection contains a few hundred words, which makes the Descriptionary very useful for looking up related and relevant terms in any area. Rather than having to fumble through a dictionary for hoped-for connexions based on definitions, one has in one compact list all of the major terminology for each category and subcategory. In very few dictionaries would one be able to find the connexions between the words ablation, drift, horn, striation, and trimline (they all have to do with glaciers). The index is wonderful for pinpointing the multiple uses of words. For instance, the word ace has multiple meanings, including one definition under Performing Arts and no fewer than five different meanings under Sports. This book will help one to ace the understanding. Following the main part of the Descriptionary is a section entitled `1050 words and expressions you should know'. The author has here compiled a listing of 'big' words and phrases that turn up on a fairly regular basis in such media as Time, Newsweek, and broadcast news. These are fairly common words that are often misunderstood. The literate may wonder that so many common and 'easy' words are included here; they are, unfortunately, included because of the current state of education -- so many high school and even college graduates lack a working literate vocabulary. However, it does the scholar's ego good -- there was not one word or phrase among the 1050 that was unfamiliar to me. This is an American book. The definitions and descriptions definitely assume the American derivative of English. Under Sports, for instance, there is both football and soccer descriptions, but no cricket. However, Sports does get considerable play by including everything from archery to windsurfing to bullfighting to thoroughbred racing. We each of us have our blind spots in education, and the Descriptionary, by pulling the key vocabulary of each field together in a brief and succinct manner, serves to provide a ready reference 'cheat sheet' to understanding the major points of almost any popular topic. The author, Marc McCutcheon, is a freelance author, perhaps best known for his work on 'Roget's Super Thesaurus' and 'The Facts On File Student Thesaurus'. A talented and experienced wordsmith, McCutcheon's Descriptionary will help ensure you are never without the right word.
"For when you know what it is but not what it's called".
A Customer on Aug 16, 1997
The material is broken down into broad subjects such as Sports and The Law, then more specific areas such as Football or Criminal Law, then terms are listed and briefly defined. Covered are: Environment, Animals, Human Body and Mind, Architecture, Art, Music, The Performing Arts and Broadcasting, Sports, Transportation, The Law, Medicine, Finance, The Military, Other Occupations, Language (very handy), Religions Modern and Ancient, Clothing, Weapons, Food and Drink, Hand Tools, and Electronics. Very useful for amusing browsing or casual reference, but the reader may wish to cross-check for any critical usages, as the author is shaky in areas outside his expertise. (The Ruger Mini 14 is not a machine gun, and a drummer's cowbell is a specially made instrument and not the agricultural item). Great fun and recommended for the writer and general reader. (The numerical rating above is a default setting within Amazon's format. This reviewer does not employ numerical ratings).
It is what is says to a T
By Shardinea on Jan 28, 2009
The Descriptionary is exactly what is says, "The book for when you know what it is, but not what it's called." Though the book isn't an absolute, fail-safe way of finding everything and anything, it does have a wide variety of terms and ranges. Being a writer, I've found that this book has saved me a lot of grief. If I need to be educated about the kinds of rocks that can be found in caves, all I have to do is look up caves and it gives me the name and description of as many cave related things as they could possibly think of. It saves me from having to do a mountain of research on a subject that I touch on for only a few pages. It also has some slang that is not usually seen in the dictionary, such as what "BTW" means in those IM messages. Fast, easy, and since I'm a bookworm, fun as well. It can't get much better than that.
A useful collection of glossaries for your reference shelf
By Amazon Customer on Nov 03, 2002
I know that "Descriptionary" sells itself as "A Thematic Dictionary," but really for my money it is a collection of glossaries. I used it to fill some gaps for my Popular Culture class with regards to Film and Television, and my Classical Mythology class as well. I also find "Descriptionary" useful for some basic vocabulary when I am off exploring some new tangent such as Buddhism, Probate Law, Swords, and Cats. Being able to find all those words in one place is very useful. I can read all about what hairstyles were worn in the 19th Century for insight into a historical novel or whatever I am reading any given week. The book also has 1,050 Words and Expressions You Should Know which is basically a vocabulary building section that could last you a couple of years if you did one a day for the foreseeable future. This volume is part of the Facts on File: Writer's Library and there are certain word lists that could be quite useful to a writer. For example, there is a section on World War II Slang that breaks down into the categories of not just Army, Navy and Marines but also Nurses, WACS, and Australian Soldiers (no clue why only the Aussies are so privileged). There are also details sections on clothing in terms of Ancient Greece and Rome, Medieval England and France, and the 16th through 20th centuries. So check out the table of contents and see how many of these sections can be useful to you in your particular line of work. I certainly use it more often than I do my dictionary (mainly because of my magic spellchecker, admittedly, but that does not take away from the reference uses of this volume).
Great new way to find the word you need
By Kate Benzin on May 02, 2014
As a writer, I really needed a book like this. Not only does it fill the hole and help me find the word I needed, but it gives me new ideas because of the way it's organized by theme. A great resource for anyone who does any writing of any type.