I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with dictionaries. Whenever I didn’t know how to spell something, I’d ask my mom. Ninety percent of the time, she would tell me to look it up. Seriously? I loved the unabridged dictionary and took any opportunity to drag it off the shelf with a thump. But there were days that I didn’t know the first letter, let alone the first three in the word in question. Mom may have enjoyed messing with me but she’d come through and at least get me started on how to spell botulism.
My reference shelf has grown beyond a dictionary and thesaurus to include something new — a-thematic dictionary. The one I have is Marc McCutcheon’s Descriptionary. It is a great place to start if you need a lot of words about a single topic whether that topic is World War II slang, archery terms, or satellites and space probes.
One of my favorite ways to use this resource is simply to brainstorm. Need the name of a fictitious railroad town? Then turn to the section on Trains and Railroads. Maybe your character lives in a community that grew up around the new aircraft industry. To create aviation-based street names, turn to Aircrafts or even Airports. Want your character to use archery or snowboarding terms? Then turn to the appropriate section in the book.
I’m planning to page through this as I work up my middle grade science fiction novel but I know I’ll be turning to it as I seek fun sounding words and lots of details for my next picture book project.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to collect words about caves.