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The Describer's Dictionary

David Grambs

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company

Published : 1995

Copyright : David Grambs 1995

ISBN-10 : PB 0-393-31265-8
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-393-31265-2

Publisher's Write-Up

Have you ever found yourself grasping in vain for that ideal descriptive word lost somewhere within the misty recesses of your vocabulary? Or felt frustrated that an oddly shaped structure or pretty setting you wished to portray in writing didn't quite translate clearly to paper? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then The Describer's Dictionary is exactly the book you need. Open it, and you have not only just the right words but - bringing them to life - stellar literary examples of descriptive writing as well.

The Dictionary concern itself with the observable, from shapes to buildings to human beings. "Referably" organized, the book uses a handy reverse, definition-to-term format that makes it easy to zero in on the term you're seeking. For example, look up "Noses" to find "aquiline," "leptorrhine," and "snub-nosed." And as an inspiration to any writer - showing how it's done by the best - hundreds of colourful and evocative descriptive passages from such diverse authors as Dickens, Darwin, and Updike appear on facing pages, making this a singularly and richly different kind of reference book.

The craft of description lives in literature, conversation, journalism, and personal letters. For help in painting pictures with the English language, The Describer's Dictionary is one of the most indispensable reference tools you can own.

About the Author:
David Grambs has worked as a dictionary definer for American Heritage and Random House, translator, encyclopaedia writer, magazine copy editor, and travel-guide journalist. Among his books on words and language are The Describer's Dictionary and The Endangered English Dictionary. He lives in New York City.

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Carolyn Howard-Johnson (311212) Rating (9/10)

Review by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Rating 9/10
Indispensable! A Book That Can't Be Replaced by Online Searches.

Roget's Thesaurus and I never much got along. When I am sure there is a better word for something than the one in my head, it never agrees. When I can't think of the word I want or one even close, it isn't any help at all. So I didn't hold out much hope for The Describer's Dictionary, when my fellow author, JayCe Crawford recommended it.

The reason I like this reference so much is that if I don't find exactly what I'm looking for, I may very well find something I like better. Further, this is the kind of reference you can actually read. Open this book to any chapter (segment) on, say, 'hair'. You'll find several quotes about "hair" that are entertaining and may stir your own creative juices before you even get to the part that that lists adjectives for all kinds of - ahem - tresses, locks, strands, shocks, hanks, coils, tendrils, curls, ringlets or swirls.

My favourite quotation was this:

"The skinny girl with fiery, chopped-off red hair swaggered inside, and stopped dead still, her hands cocked on her hips. Her face was flat, and rather impertinent... "
Truman Capote, Other voices, Other Rooms

As you can see, this offering gives an author an idea of how the best might have handled the same problem she faces. Many are mightily amusing.

So, if you don't just keep reading instead of handling the problem at hand with the first word you fall in love with, you might eventually find adjectives for some 96 possible 'hair situations' and one of them may be even better.

Grambs also usually divides several each segment so you'll get substitute nouns but also possible adjectives. So for "oiled hair" you will find, "greased, slicked, slick, pomaded , brilliantined, plastered, pasted."

Choose one. Or let one speak to you so you can come up with a simile or metaphor. When I get into a writing snit, it's often this book to my rescue. And, by the way, I've found no free article with an online search - absolutely nothing - that can replace the inspiration and wisdom in this book.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson (31st December 2012)

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