|Book of the Month|
|Bernstein's Reverse Dictionary|
ISBN 0 7100 8367x
What is a reverse dictionary? Well, a regular dictionary is for when you find a word which you do not understand. You then look up that work in the dictionary, and get the meaning. However, many language students will know that there are times when one knows that a word exists, but while the meaning is clear, the actual word is unknown or forgotten. For example, a student may know that there is probably an English word for 'a person who makes barrels', but how can this word be discovered? This is where a reverse dictionary is very useful. Look up 'Barrel-maker' and a reverse dictionary gives 'cooper'. So a reverse dictionary works by giving a list of definitions that you can look up to find words - the reverse of a regular dictionary, where you look up words to find definitions. For a language student both types of dictionary are important. The particular dictionary reviewed here has been compiled by Theodore Bernstein, author of books on the usage of English such as The Careful Writer and Watch Your Language.
The book starts with a brief introduction which describes why the author decided to invent the idea. (He was trying to remember the word 'palindrome'.) It then goes on to describe how to use the book, which has entries for over 13,000 words. With this description we also realise the major problem with a book of this kind. That is, the words which one person uses for a definition might be different from the description used by another. So looking for 'serving' or 'country' girl failed to produce the word 'wench', though the dictionary did produce the useful reminder that the collective noun for a group of girls is a 'bevy'. One should also note that this book also gives the technical names for some sexual activities which younger readers may not be aware of, let alone be able to describe accurately.
Who is this book for? Those with access to an internet connection can do 'reverse dictionary lookups' more quickly and conveniently than those using a paper book. However, this book is still useful for those wanting to read for the pleasure of discivering words which they did not know existed. Discovering something good or pleasant that one was not even looking for is always a happy experience. The reverse dictionary can tell you the word for such an experience - it is 'serendipidity'.
|Verdict: Mostly replaced by the internet
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