Descriptionary Fourth Edition  – A Thematic Dictionary

Pros: Easy reference book, incredibly inclusive, many varied themes

Cons: Is it too technical or didactic?

Not long ago a friend mentioned seeing a “herringbone cloud formation” in the evening sky.  I had no idea to what he was referring until he explained it was a lateral chevron pattern. Out of curiosity, I Googled it and sure enough, it was exactly as he described.  Little bits of information like that are like the sprinkling of nuts atop a hot fudge sundae. I hoped I would remember it so I could use it someday in a writing. I guess I just did.

Perhaps this book is best described by the author, Marc McCutcheon himself :

“The book for when you know what it is but not what it’s called”.


The searchers weren’t sure what they were seeing – was it the lost plane or just another guyot ? For all they knew it could be a portion of the Kerguelen-Gaussberg Ridge.


It was just a lapsus linguae, certainly not meant to hurt anyone, on the other hand it wasn’t exactly logorrhea, so I didn’t see the problem.


He figured he had at least another klick to go – which annoyed the heck out of him since he was a sapper, not infantry. He had lost his Fritz and wondered how long it would take the glad bags to arrive in the event he became the target of a salvo.


I’ve written three very short paragraphs containing words I have never heard or used before – with the exception of ‘salvo’. My concern is that a writer can use these words if he or she chooses, but one of two things are likely to happen: A) the reader will have to research the word to get a definition, or B) the author will have to follow the word with a brief definition – both situations might be cumbersome. Using the second paragraph as an example:

” It was just a lapsus linguae, ( slip of the tongue)certainly not meant to hurt anyone, on the other hand it wasn’t exactly logorrhea, (excessive or irrational talking) so I didn’t see the problem.”

I love the word “lapsus linguae”, but not if it’s unlikely the reader will have a clue, or if I have to define each unusual word I choose – just to (try to) make myself look brilliant. I may as well have said ‘a slip of the tongue’ and ‘excessive or irrational talking’ to begin.

HOWEVER, with those caveats in place, this reference is fabulous at bringing to mind (and pen) words that would be just plain fun to use (randomly flipping through book):

Banana ball: A golfing term meaning a ball that’s been hit and is curving in the shape of a banana. I can imagine several different writings one could use this term, and none involving golf.

Apostacy: An abandonment of one’s faith.

Sunshine laws: Laws that require meetings held by government agencies be open to the public.

Boys of Summer: Originally the name of the Brooklyn Dodgers, now connoting all baseball players.

Arm stump: On an armchair, the vertical member that supports the armrest.

Animism:The belief that everything in nature has a soul or form of consciousness.

The books’ twenty-four chapters range from Animals and Insects to Furniture to Language to Medicine to Sports – and more.  And the ‘sub-chapters, if you will, are incredibly detailed. For example – under the main heading ‘SCIENCE’  you’ll find Anthropology and Archeology,  Astronomy, Chemistry,Comets, Constellations, Elements, Evolution, Moon (yeah!) Particle and Particle Physics, Space and Sun.  This book is just plain fun to read!

There’s a forty-page section titled “Words and Expressions You Should Know”. It’s a section filled with words and expressions and terms every literate person should know, ” to sharpen both comprehension and communication skills”.

Following “Words and Expressions You Should Know” is a sixty-five page Index, itself a fascinating section to peruse.

I found this book at a garage sale for $1.00. It must have simply fallen into the wrong hands – I can’t imagine no longer having use for it.

Author  Marc McCutcheon

711 pages

Checkmark Books

ISBN – 13:978-0-8160-7947-6

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