Dictionaries aren’t just for looking up spellings and meanings of a broad selection of terms; you’ll find biographical, geographical, and medical dictionaries, among other specialized volumes. Here are five other categories of repositories of words, with a link to one online example of each.
1. Reverse Dictionaries
A reverse dictionary enables you to type in a phrase that describes a word or phrase you’re trying to think of. The matching technology is imperfect, of course, but a reverse dictionary is your best chance for coming up with that elusive term. Try this reverse dictionary at the dictionary portal OneLook.com, or, if you prefer a print resource, check out the Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, by John Ellison Kahn.
2. Visual Dictionaries
Visual dictionaries like this one provide visitors with illustrations of animate and inanimate things labeled with parts and components. Merriam-Webster’s publishes a print visual dictionary, but many others are available, including multilingual ones and those produced especially for children.
3. Beginners’/Learners’ Dictionaries
The Cambridge University Press has, among its family of online dictionaries, one with simplified definitions; for American English specifically, Merriam-Webster offers Word Central, an online children’s dictionary that is helpful for learners of all ages without being juvenile in presentation. For a print version, use a dictionary for young students (like the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary) — though the child-oriented design of these books may put off older learners — or one for English-language learners.
4. Translation Dictionaries
Online dictionaries that enable visitors to type in a word and receive its equivalent in another language (or obtain an English word by entering a foreign one) abound; many websites, such as Dictionary.com’s Translator site, include search engines for multiple languages. Of course, print translation dictionaries are also easy to find on the Internet and in bookstores. (Recently published ones available at used-book stores are a good bargain.)
5. Unusual-Words Dictionaries
Numerous Web-savvy language aficionados have created online repositories of seldom-used and/or offbeat words; go, for example, to the Phrontistery. You’ll also find many similar print compendiums, such as The Word Lovers’ Dictionary: Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words, by Josefa Heifetz.