5 Types of Specialized Dictionaries

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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.

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8 thoughts on “5 Types of Specialized Dictionaries”

  1. Mark, you are a dangerous man. I followed your suggestion and visited the Phrontistery, and got lost there for over half an hour before I snapped out of it. I wish I had a photographic memory to hold on to all those words and make them mine!

  2. What about pronunciation dictionaries, such as ?

    I stumbled on this one recently, and I find it invaluable for a non-native speaker such as myself.

  3. Hello, Vincent, and welcome!

    The correct phrase is “such as I” – what you are really saying is “such as I am”).

    Some English speakers think that ‘I’ is a taboo word, and replace it with all sorts of ‘polite’ substitutions – ‘myself’ in this situation. IMO, this is just silly!

  4. Hello…

    Thanks for the tip. Rest assured that what threw me off the scent was in no way a desire to be politically correct, but the hidden verb; its omission makes it look like an object is expected, and not a subject (though one wonders what it could be object *to*).

  5. @Vincent and Sally: Some people also mistakenly use “myself” when they do that passive-voice construction thing, and the end result is highly annoying. Medical people always do this, so instead of saying, for example, “I administered the injection,” they will say “The injection was administered by myself.” Ugh, hurts my ears.
    @Vincent, you probably could also have said, “…non-native speakers like me.” But for a non-native speaker, you sure do WRITE well, much better than some of the natives I know LOL

  6. On Sat, Dec 22, 2012 at 7:59 AM, wrote:

    Two other valuable resources for writers are the Writer’s Digest Flip Dictionary and the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE – 5 Volumes)

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