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The Describer's Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms & Literary Quotations (Treasury of Terms and Literary Quotations) Paperback – August 17, 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Offer[s] hours of fun and useful words.... Valuable to writers, readers, and those stuck for a word or phrase to spice up a letter or diary entry.” (Digby Diehl)

About the Author

David Grambs has worked as a lexicographer, editor, travel reporter, and translator. He is the author of five other books pertaining to the English language, including The Endangered English Dictionary, and is coauthor of So You Think You Can Spell? with Ellen S. Levine.
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Product Details

  • Series: Treasury of Terms and Literary Quotations
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 7/18/95 edition (August 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393312658
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393312652
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #557,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on July 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a very useful book, containing brief excerpts from literary works on the left-hand pages, and lists of words broken down in categories on the right. It is interesting both to read - the excerpts are all excellent examples of descriptive writing - and to find the right word. However, I don't give it 5 stars because it has no index. To find a word, you need to look first to the chapter (main categories) then read through all the sub-categories.
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Format: Paperback
I like this reference because if I don't find exactly what I'm looking for, I may very well find something else that's better. Open this book to any chapter (segment). Let's use "hair" as an example. 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 lists adjectives for all kinds of. . .ahem . . . tresses, locks, strands, shocks, hanks, coils, tendrils, curls, ringlets or swirls. As you can see, entries like this give writers new possiblities to consider.

The entries don't stop there. Writers will find different kinds of hair listed--with alternative suggestions for those, too. So for "oiled hair" they'll find, "greased, slicked, slick, pomaded, brilliantined, plastered, pasted." Authors can choose one, be inspried by one (for a simile or metaphor?), or move on down the list.

When I get into a writing snit, it's often this book to my rescue. The cover of mine is faded, the pages yellowed, the corners tagged.
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Lots of fun and useful for physical descriptions of animal, vegetable and mineral. Not appropriate for writers looking for inspiration in abstracts, emotions or thought.
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I understand reviews are meant to be subjective, but, I fail to agree with several on this page that rate this book low.

Firstly, this book never claimed to be a thesaurus. I say this to counter another review that tried comparing the two. Matter-o-fact, I own a Roget's Thesaurus and there is a stark difference. This book is a very good utility for fiction writer's in the sense that it distills much of what the average writer will encounter on his writing journey in terms of: Character descriptions, Location descriptions (houses, buildings etc) et al. Equally important, it has small sections where it shows how some of these words can be used -- and were used by known authors.

There are 1 or 2 commentaries that had a disparaging -- "oh, there's nothing here that you don't already know, unless you're learning English for the 1st time", tone. But in truth, no matter how eclectic your vocabulary might be, there are often times when words/phrases/expressions seem to elude you. Words that are just beyond that foggy mist, in need of a hint to give you that "aha, now I've got it" moment. This book can help get that memory juice going, and maybe even give you a better alternative.

For those with a thesaurus, I can only say that this will help strengthen the quality of that thesaurus. So, I do recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback
This book is very comprehensive on its contents, arranged in a very easy to use manner. In particular, I find the excerpts taken from various novels very useful. It is very important to find the right word to describe something, but how to lace the word into a sentence is also important too. For example, under the section describing face shapes, excerpts are taken from novels to show how published authors describe face shapes of their characters, thus giving ideas on writing styles.
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This is an excellent reference book and I use it every time I write. I don't believe you have to be 'low class' if you need this, as some reviewers pointed out, but some of the excerpts used are outdated and useless in today's writing world. Sure, Hawthorne, Fitzgerald and the like were wonderful writers, and we can learn, but we don't write like that today. Also, there are some words that would just sound out of place or stupid when used. He has things grouped in chapters. ( Ears, looks with eyes, colors, shapes, hairstyles, etc.) For example, he has a chapter on "Eyes" but some of the excerpts don't always match up to descriptions about "Eyes", what's up with that? HOWEVER, there are times you might need a word or two, something that escapes you, or a way to describe a look, or feeling, or texture or shape and that's where this book comes in handy. I think if you have problems with description, this can really help.
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Format: Paperback
One of the best reference works I've come across. This book will give you almost every word from colors, to shapes, to patterns, to terrain, to architecture, to colors, to textures--all of which is supplemented with excellent examples ranging from the classics to such modern writers as Nicholson Baker, proving that not only does Mr. Grambs have good taste, but that he's well read as well.
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This book is arranged into topical sections and provides on one page literary examples of various words and such and other other page lists of various descriptive words fitting a theme.

It's not quite a thesaurus, per se. But it's a great resource for thumbing through to expand your vocabulary or poking through if you're looking for that just right "obscure word" to describe a given thing or situation.

As others have probably said, an index would be nice. But, c'est la vie. It is what it is. And it is a great book! If you like this book, you'll probably also like The Thinker's Thesaurus or for those preferring things a little more Eldritch: Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon. All great book for wordsmiths, philologists, and men of letters.
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