A Person Who Wanders City Streets -- There's an Old, Forgotten Word for That

Did you know that there's an old and forgotten word for "a person who wanders city streets"? That word is vicambulist.

I came across the word while reading The Way the World Works, a book of essays by Nicholson Baker. And since learning of it, vicambulist has become my new favorite word -- and not just because it's an uncommon term and with a good mouthfeel. I like it because it directly applies to me. I love to wander aimlessly through cities, and since learning of it, I've been reminiscing about the time I spent in London, England, my junior year of college.

It was the winter/spring of 1993 and I was participating in my college's study abroad program. England is an expensive place and being there for the entire semester severely strained my resources. To put it in non-euphemistic terms, I was broke. I'm talking not sure I had enough money to eat every day of the month broke. So, for entertainment, and to escape my flat where I lived with my friend Christian and three strangers, I went for walks. Very long walks. Every day. It was a wonderful time of my life and I learned a lot about the city and myself. But I digress ....

To say vicambulist is a lexicographical deep cut is something of an understatement. The word does not appear in any of my dictionaries or thesauri, including the Dictionary of Uncommon Words; Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, or Preposterous Words; The Highly Selective Dictionary for Extraordinarily Literate, or the Thinker's Thesaurus. The closest any of these books have to it is flaneur, meaning "an idle man-about town" or "one who strolls through city streets idly or aimlessly."

The word is also absent from the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which is strange because the essay of Baker's that contains the word is about Ammon Shea, the man who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary, one volume after the other.

Acedia: Lost to Neither Time Nor Translation

I bristle at being told how or what to feel by the articles I read in magazines or online. I mean, if you want to tell me how you feel, then great, but I reserve the right to determine my own emotional state. I can’t imagine such an assertion is somehow out of bounds, but if it is, I stand by it.

Unfortunately, being told how I feel during the pandemic is only one of the problems I have with the article, “Acedia: The Lost Word for the Emotion We’re All Feeling Right Now” that appeared on the website The Conversation on August 26, 2020. Another, and more significant, issue is that a good portion of the article’s premise — that the word acedia has been “lost to time and translation” — is flat out wrong.

Before I get to that, though, I’d like to assert that I do agree with the rest of the author’s point. Acedia, a word that describes a sort of anxious listlessness, is particularly useful in describing how a lot of people seem to be feeling during this ongoing pandemic. This is understandable. The pandemic has lasted for close to a year and it’s clear from the number of folks I see out and about, a lot of folks have had enough. In short, this pandemic shit is getting old.

Mr. Zecher, who is not so blunt, puts it this way:

No one is posting pictures of their sourdough. Zoom cocktail parties have lost their novelty. Netflix can only release so many new series. The news seems worse every day, yet we compulsively scroll through it.
      We get distracted by social media yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. We’re bored, listless, afraid and uncertain.

“What is this feeling?” Zecher asks, forgetting he put the answer in the title of his article. Why, it’s acedia, of course, and as Zecher rightfully points out, humans have known about it since the 5th century, when a monk and theologian by the name of John Cassian took the time to describe it.

A mind “seized” by this emotion is “horrified at where he is, disgusted with his room … It does not allow him to stay still in his cell or to devote any effort to reading.” He feels … “such bodily listlessness and yawning hunger as though he were worn by a long journey or a prolonged fast … Next he glances about and sighs that no one is coming to see him. Constantly in and out of his cell, he looks at the sun as if it were too slow in setting.”

To Zecher’s ears, this description sounds “eerily familiar,” because it “so aptly describes our current state.”

Well, maybe his state, or some people’s state, but not my state. But, again, I get where Zecher is coming from and I get the gist of his article: A dude back in the 5th century wrote about feeling the same way a lot of folks feel now in the 21st — ain’t that a pip! I guess everything old really IS new again.

Yet, Zecher isn’t content to leave it at that. He feels compelled to go a step further and claim, “the name that so aptly describes our current state was lost to time and translation.”

He shouldn’t have.

What possessed Zecher to make such a claim I cannot say, but he’s wrong. The word acedia has not been lost to either time or translation. It has been with us for centuries, quietly perhaps, but it’s been there, and the evidence is ample. 

To begin, if you really want to know if a word has been “lost to time and translation,” then you ought to consult a dictionary, or better yet, dictionaries. Since I have more than a few, I consulted several to see what they had to say about the word, its history, and use.

The two oldest dictionaries in my collection, Nuttall’s Dictionary of the English Language (1872) and Donohue’s Standard New Century Dictionary of the English Language (1914), do not have an entry for acedia, but most of the later references do. The National Dictionary (1940) has it. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary (1971) has an entry for acedy (which it associates with acedia) but labels the word as both “obsolete” and “rare.” Webster’s Third International Dictionary (1961) has an entry for acedia free from such cautionary labels. It’s a similar story with the Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary (1966), the American Heritage Dictionary (1969), The Oxford English Reference Dictionary (2002), and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, 2003). Interestingly, the Dictionary of Obsolete English did not contain an entry for acedia, which suggests it has not fallen out of use. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that the word does not appear in either the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychology (1983) or the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology (2001). It can be found, however, in the Psychiatric Dictionary (1989), but this book describes the term as “obsolete” too. (Thus, if the term has indeed been lost, perhaps it’s just the members of the psychiatric establishment who can no longer find it, or no longer wish to.)

I will admit that, when it comes to the term’s use, these are somewhat mixed results. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that a word purported to be “lost to history” would not regularly appear in dictionaries from 1940 to the (near) present.

So much, then, for the word being lost to time, but what about translation? Here Zecher fares a bit better. In his article he notes that, although Cassian’s use of the term makes it “sound like apathy,” a close reading of the monk’s description “shows that acedia is much more daunting and complex than that.” To wit, Zecher defines acedia as the “strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate.”

The dictionaries at my disposal aren’t so exacting, but they are rather unified in their association of acedia with physical and spiritual listlessness and/or apathy. The Oxford English Reference Dictionary (2002) defines it simply as “listlessness,” whereas Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “apathy, boredom.” Things get a little livelier in the Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, which defines the term as, “a pathological mental or spiritual torpor” and “sloth regarded as one of the seven deadly sins.” The American Heritage Dictionary plays along and defines acedia as “spiritual torpor; ennui,” and, finally, the National Dictionary provides my favorite definition, “an abnormal condition of the mind, characterized by lassitude, listlessness, and general indifference; the sin of sloth (one of the seven deadly sins).”

Clearly, none of these definitions say anything about “undirected anxiety” or the “inability to concentrate,” although I would argue feelings of “listlessness” would include an inability to focus and stay on task. So, while Zecher may be right that Cassian’s concept of acedia was more nuanced and textured than it seems to be today, it’s a stretch to say we moderns lack sufficient understanding of what acedia means.

It’s an even further stretch to claim, as Zecher does, that the word is “barely used today.”

Again, that’s just not true.

As Zecher rightfully points out, acedia was commonly referred to as “the noonday demon,” because it was said to impede the ability of monks to concentrate on their studies at this time of day, leading them toward the silkiest of the seven deadly sins, sloth (as noted in some of the dictionary definitions mentioned above). Zecher’s awareness of this phrase, “noonday demon,” is important because it should have tipped him off to the existence of a book by Andrew Solomon titled … you guessed it … The Noonday Demon. This book, which details the author’s experience of severe depression, was published in 2001, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and thus was both well-known and widely available (I got a copy at a Barnes and Noble). In addition, the religion writer Kathleen Norris authored the book Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life in 2010, which got a fair amount of press in religious circles because Norris is an oblate monk. Given that Zecher is a research fellow at the Australian Catholic University, it seems like he should have known about both these texts. Further, a quick Google search reveals that there are also several other books that discuss the subject of acedia (or at least have the word in their titles), so to say the word is “barely used today,” is absurd.

It’s also worth pointing out that, at least in the cases of Solomon and Norris, these writers don’t just use acedia in their books haphazardly, as a synonym for depression or melancholy. Both authors make it clear they are aware of John Cassian and his writings on the subject and, as a result, both use the term quite deliberately. (I know this because Solomon devotes a couple pages to Cassian in his book and Norris discusses her awareness of the monk and his writings during a 2018 interview with the Biola University Center for Christian Thought. Indeed, the interview is itself proof that word is still in use today.)

Okay, so Zecher is wrong … really wrong … on this last account. Why do I care so damn much?

Well, despite my snark-filled tone, I’m not out to take Mr. Zecher down a peg. (Really, I’m not.) Again, I am not quibbling with his assessment that acedia just might be the perfect word to describe what some folks appear to be feeling as they cope with pandemic-born isolation and inactivity. I will even agree that acedia is likely a lesser-known word compared to its synonyms (e.g., depression, melancholy, lethargy, listlessness, stagnation, and so on.) Nevertheless, what bothers me about Zecher’s take is, isn’t the word’s relative obscurity enough? Why tack on the bit about the word being lost to history or translation when (A) it just isn’t true, and (B) it’s not that hard to prove otherwise?

That said, I want to cut this dude some slack. It’s tough to be a writer these days. There is a lot of competition out there and coming up with a new angle for a pitch is hard. At the same time, I can’t help but feel that after four years of the Trump administration’s lies and scores of politicians and conspiracy theorists taking to the airwaves and social media to spout falsehoods about everything from the election to the COVID-19 vaccine, the world could use a little less bullshit—and I expect people with the title of “researcher” to help us eliminate it. 


Note: This item first appeared in issue #3 of Alternative Incite magazine

From the Archives: Going Round with Saturn

Not long ago, when I was suffering through what I can only call a dark time, I turned to more than a few of the books in my library to find some answers as to what might be happening and why. (I tried a shrink too, but the books were more useful.) One of them that left a “mark” was Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, which has a chapter with the rather curious title, “Gifts of Depression.” Within that chapter is a section bearing the sub-heading, “Saturn’s Child,” which contains sentiments like this:

… There was a time, five or six hundred years ago, when melancholy was identified with the Roman god Saturn. To be depressed was to be “in Saturn,” and a person chronically disposed to melancholy was known as a “child of Saturn.” […] These melancholic thoughts are are deeply rooted in Saturn’s preference for days gone by, for memory and the sense that time is passing. These thoughts and feelings, sad as they are, favor the soul’s desire to be both in time and in eternity, and so in a strange way, can be pleasing.

In traditional texts, Saturn is characterized as cold and distant … Saturn was also traditionally identified with the metal lead, giving the soul weight and density, allowing the light, airy elements to coalesce…. As we age, our ideas, formerly light and rambling, and unrelated to each other, become more densely gathered into values and philosophy, giving our lives substance and firmness.

For whatever reason, these words of Moore’s have stuck with me and I’ve become a little obsessed with this notion of a sort of “god of melancholy.” So, naturally, I dug into the reference section of my library to learn more about this god of yore and to see if what Moore had to say about him was accurate.

What I found, not surprisingly perhaps, were differing myths surrounding Saturn and a rich symbolic history that seems to contradict the myths without completely destroying the somewhat tenuous, yet highly visible thread that weaves its way through and unites them all.

Here are a few excerpts demonstrating both those contradictions and unifying themes.

Saturn symbolizes time, with its ravenous appetite for life, devours all its creations, whether they are beings, things, ideas or sentiments. He is also symbolic of the insufficiency, in the mystic sense, of any order of existence within the plane of the temporal, or the necessity for the “reign of Cronos” to be succeeded by another cosmic mode of existence in which time has no place. Time brings restlessness–the sense of duration lasting from the moment of stimulus up to the instant of satisfaction. Hence Saturn is symbolic of activity, of slow, implacable dynamism, of realization and communication; and this is why he is said to have devoured his children and why he is related to the Ouroboros (or the serpent which bites its own tail). Other attributes are the oar (standing for navigation nad progress in things temporal), the hourglass and the scythe. In the scythe we can detect a double meaning: first, its function of cutting parallel to and corroborating the symbolism of devouring; and, secondly, its curved shape, which invariably corresponds to the feminine principle. This is why … Saturn takes on the same characteristic ambiguity of gender and sex, and is related to the earth, the sarcophagus and putrefaction, as well as the color black…. Saturn is in every case, a symbol of the law of limitation which gives shape to life, or the localized expression in time and space of the universal life.
– A Dictionary of Symbols

A very old Italian god identified with Cronus. He was said to have come from Greece to Italy in very early times, when Jupiter dethroned him and hurled him from Olympus. He established himself on the Capitol, on the site of Rome, and founded a village there, which bore the name of Saturnia. The reign of Saturn was extremely prosperous. This was the Golden Age. Saturn taught people how to cultivate the ground…. He was depicted armed with a scythe and his name was was associated with the invention of viticulture. He was, however, sometimes considered as a god of the underworld.

– Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology

[Speaking of his reign in Italy …] Men lived like the gods, without care, in uninterrupted happiness, health, and strength; they did not grow old; and to them death was a slumber which relieved them of their present nature and transformed them into daemons. The earth yielded every kind of fruit and gave up all its treasures without cultivation or labor. Under the reign of Saturn, men lived a life of paradise.

– Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature 

The Butter Lamb News - Issues (Current and Back)

Looking for the skinny on what's in the next issue of The Butter Lamb News? Want to know what was in issues you might have missed? Looking for PDFs of past issues? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, then you've come to the right place! Now stop talking to yourself and read on!


Current Issue:

Issue #4 - Issue #4 of the BLN is bigger and better than ever thanks to a new, larger format and color ink cartridges. And then there's the content! If you thought this shit was nerdy before, well then get a load of this issue! (16 pages, 8.5 X 11, full color)

*** You can get a PDF of this issue right here! ***


  • My Choice for Word of the Year? "Stop" - References don't need to pander to the Twitterverse or chase the digital-age currency of clicks, likes, and shares by latching on the latest, most fire AF slang because, they have not lost any their relevance. This is how I know.


  • Dictionaries and References in the News - Time operas; Removing words from the dictionary; Weed slang; Oxford to release dictionary of African-American English; dictionary of Gen Z dating terms; Merriam-Webster adds a bunch of new words; and the famed Kripke Collection finds a new home; and dictionary lovers waxing philosophic.


  • New Words and Phrases (or words and phrases new to me) - Productivity paranoia, loud laborer, boyfriend air, wife guy, mufti, snackification movement, appurtenances, beetle-browed, eigengrau, fin-de-siecle, and grisaille, labile, lemniscate, and lunule.


  • Reference- (and reference like) and Word-Related Publications Received - Anachronisms, Hypno Video, Just a Jefferson, Ritual View, and Word of the Day


  • Plus, new Arrivals to the Butter Lamb Reference Library and a slew of reader letters!

Back Issues:

Issue #3 - Bigger than issue #2 (but not quite as big as issue #4), the third installment of the BLN gives you even more bang for your buck (which is a funny thing to say about a free newsletter). This issue's contents run the gamut (what the fuck is a gamut?) from tips on how to make the most of your references (with a little help from John McPhee) and reader letters to references in the news and new words. Dig it! (32 pages, half-size legal, B+W)


*** You can grab a PDF of this issue right here! ***


  • Let References Help: In addition to telling us what words mean, a good dictionary can also help us choose the best word … or so says John McPhee


  • Reader Letters … or letter


  • New Words and Phrases (or Words and Phrases new to me): Newfangled workplace words, psychological disorders, and other words and phrases of interest from "book shy" to "bezoar."


  • Dictionaries and References in the News: Dictionaries banned in prison, threats against Merriam-Webster for tinkering with gender-related definitions, school districts rejecting dictionary donations, and the number of words invented by Shakespeare in question


  • New Additions to the BLRL: Dictionaries of literary symbols, word origins, proverbs, war, "rediscovered" words (not), and the future in America.


  • It Came from the PO Box: Zine reviews


  • And a trip down memory lane … or so I thought … in The Last Word 




Issue #2 - This issue continues the trend launched by the BLN's speculative first issue! But if you think issue #2 steps out cautiously, forget it! The contents of Issue #2 deliver some "tough lessons" from dictionaries and then rage on with diatribes about the (modern) insult "basic" and other hot button words. Check it out! (24 pages, half-size legal, B+W)


*** You can grab a PDF of this issue right here! ***


  • More on descriptivism vs. prescriptivism … through the lens of Star Wars


  • Reader letters on tax tokens, reactions to cheugy, problems with my punctuation, and more.


  • New Words and Phrases (or Words and Phrases new to me): Basic, dazzle, Gasconade, hurkle-durkle, Idioglossia, lachrymose, mission statement, and more.


  • Dictionaries and References in the News: People with low emotional intelligence use this phrase, thesaurus history, new words added to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, and who is and isn't a "victim."


  • New Additions to the BLRL: Dictionaries on rhyming, lexicography (why not?), geek slang, classical mythology, modern thought, obscure words, and dreams. I also speak of Dreyer's English and the fictional Liar's Dictionary.




Issue #1 - The zine that started it all and unleashed Big Dictionary Energy on the masses! This well-reviewed little guy set the tone for later issues with the first installments of Front Matter, Dictionaries and References in the News, New Words and Phrases, Additions to the BLRL, and more. Get a copy and see how it all began! (24 pages, digest-size, B+W)


*** You can grab a PDF of this issue right here! ***


  • Front Matter: Yes, Virginia, Dictionary Forewards can be Fascinating!


  • Dictionaries and References in the News: Defining life, the link between COVID-19 and dictionaries, and bad words and artificial intelligence


  • New Words and Phrases: Cheugy, chuffed, pflug, phub, smize (and the cult of the green M&M), and zaftig


  • New Additions to the BLRL: Dictionaries on or for the highly literate, linguistics and phonetics, the F-word, religions and secular faiths, abbreviations, books, psychoanalysis, and political thought. 

About the Butter Lamb

The Butter Lamb Reference Library (BLRL) exists to proclaim the good news of reference books as a source of trustworthy information to challenge misconception, confront willful ignorance, and provide answers to an astonishing array of questions be they serious, silly, or something in between. I am aware that reference books have lost some of their allure these days and that most folks prefer the web. Fortunately, I couldn’t care less. I maintain this attitude for several reasons. Among them is that, far too often, the information offered online is  inaccurate or incomplete (see screen capture above from actual web search of the word “anachronist,” which IS a word). Still, I can see the writing on the wall. The web isn’t going anywhere and reference books are heavy, large, and generally inconvenient. (Even some contemporary lexicographers confess they no longer use their physical dictionaries!) Thus, there’s not much reference enthusiasts like me can do about it except collect these magical texts and show them off in a museum-like setting, which is exactly what I do via the BLRL.


Why “Butter Lamb”?


In essence, a butter lamb is a wad of butter pressed into the form of a lamb. The thing about a butter lamb, though, is that it’s so much more than that. It’s a cultural artifact, a sign of material comfort, a Buffalo, New York tradition and, if you put your faith in Wikipedia, “a traditional butter sculpture accompanying the Easter meal (and a symbol of the Easter season) for many Russian, Slovenian and Polish Catholics.” They’ve even been immortalized on a t-shirt ( … er… the butter lambs, not the Russians, Slovenians, or Poles).


In their own way, butter lambs are also a nice metaphor for the English language. On the surface, the words we speak are merely assemblages of letters that mean one thing as opposed to another. But, if you’re willing to dig deeper,  you soon realize that words are so much more than tools to distinguish A from B or black from white. Words come in many shapes and forms and can be used to draw pictures that reflect reality, or, as the purveyors of double-speak show, twist the things we see and hear into forms unrecognizable. Moreover, the histories of words document their origins and evolution and show how they and, sometimes their meanings, change over time like lifeforms.


It is the aim of this blog to showcase the “butter lambish-ness” (butter lambity?) of our language, be it through personal experiences, random thoughts, excerpts from whatever I’m reading, news articles, and so on. It’s also to have a little wordy fun and spread (pun intended) some appreciation for the words we too often use with too little thought.

That’s why.


Who Is the Butter Lamb?


The BLRL is managed, and its blog is written and edited (sort of …) by me — Joe (Joe3) Smith. Fair warning: I am neither a lexicographer nor a librarian. I have, however, worked in several libraries and I am the founder of the College Park Community Library in College Park, Maryland. I have a bachelor’s degree in English (which you probably guessed), but, more to the point, I am a fan of dictionaries (and other references), a worshiper of words, a lover of books, and a publisher of books and magazines. 


Our address (should you need it for some reason) is PO Box 3067, Laurel, MD 20709.


Although the BLRL does not allow visits at this time, we do provide a word (or phrase or symbol, etc.) research service. So, if there’s something you’d like me to investigate for you, drop me a line. I am at your service.

Butter Lamb Reference Library Collection


The Butter Lamb Reference Library (BLRL) contains more than 265 references* and is always expanding. The following is a complete list of the books on the BLRL’s shelves (as of 3/16/2022) arranged by subject. At the end of the list are some supplementary notes. 




Oxford Dictionary of Abbreviations 



Glossary of Accounting Language



Facts on File Dictionary of Classical, Biblical, and Literary

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions



Dictionary Of Animal Words and Phrases



Penguin Dictionary of Architecture 



Pictoral Bible Dictionary

Bible Dictionary (Peloubet's) 

Dictionary of the Bible (Mckenzie)

Davis Dictionary of the Bible

Bible Dictionary (Harper Collins)



Webster's Biographical Dictionary


Books and Printing

American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking

Encyclopedia of the Book


Books on References

Chasing the Sun

Alpha to Omega

Brief History of Encyclopedias

Word Origins

Professor and the Madman

The Meaning of Everything

Word By Word

Defining the World



Basic Catholic Dictionary

Catholic Dictionary

Catholic Dictionary

New Concise Catholic Dictionary



Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church  


Dictionary Of Cliches




Construction Dictionary


Critical Theory

Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory




Doomsday Dictionary

Dictionary of Global Culture

Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

Concise Glossary of Cultural Theory 

Dictionary of Bad Manners



Wordsworth Dictionary of Dreams 

Dreamers Dictionary

Dream Dictionary from A to Z

Dream Dictionary



Columbia Encyclopedia 

Columbia Viking Desk Encyclopedia 



Dictionary of Eponyms



Dictionary of Word Origins (Flavell)

Webster's New Explorer Dictionary of Word Origins

NTC's Dictionary of Word Origins

Dictionary of Word Roots And Combining Forms

Dictionary of Word Origins (Shipley)

Concise Dictionary of English Etymology

Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English

Dictionary of Word Origins (Ayto)

Chambers Dictionary of Etymology

Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories

Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins

Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins



Dictionary of Republicanisms 

Faber Dictionary of Euphemism

Rawson's Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk

Doublespeak Dictionary

Devil's Dictionary

Dictionary of Bullshit



The Film Snob's Dictionary 

Dictionary of Film Quotation 



Barron's Dictionary of Financial Investment Terms



Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore

Dictionary of Fairies


Foreign Language

Collins Latin-English Dictionary

Oxford Latin Dictionary

Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations

Cassell's Italian Dictionary

New Cassell's German Dictionary

Dictionary and Grammar of the Eastern Island Language

Dictionary of Foreign Terms



Practical Encyclopedia of Gardening in Dictionary Form



Oxford Dictionary of Geography

MW Geographical Dictionary


General Dictionaries

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969)

World Book Dictionary (Vol. 1 And 2)

Longman Dictionary of American English

Webster's Third New International Dictionary

Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary

Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary

The Volume Library

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary: A to Z

Courtis-Watters Illustrated Golden Dictionary for Young Readers

Webster's New World College Dictionary 

Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary

Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language

Webster's Eleventh New Collegiate Dictionary

Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary

Webster's New World Dictionary (Senior Edition)

Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary (vol. 3)

Winston Dictionary (1957)

Dictionary of American Regional English (vol. 1)

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

Oxford English Reference Dictionary

Random House Dictionary of the English Language


B.B. New Nuttall's Dictionary

Johnson's Dictionary: A Modern Selection

National Dictionary (1940)

Donohue's Standard New Century (1914)

Webster's Dictionary

New Webster's Dictionary and Roget's Thesaurus

Wordsworth School Dictionary

School and Office Dictionary

Everyday American English Dictionary

Comprehensive Desk Dictionary A-K and L-Z




Dictionary of Graphology



Harper Dictionary of Modern Thought

New Dictionary of Thought

Dictionary of Theories

QPB Dictionary of Ideas




Idiom Savant

Brewer's Dictionary of 20th Century Phrase and Fable

Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

NTC's American Idiom Dictionary



A Compendium of Concepts, Doctrines, Traits, & Beliefs



Oxford Dictionary of Journalism



Klingon Dictionary



Black's Law Dictionary

Law Dictionary



Dictionary of Lexicography



Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics



Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms

Reader's Guide to Literary Terms

Oxford Companion to American Literature

Dictionary of Imaginary Places 

Blake Dictionary

Oxford Guide to British Women Writers 

Reader's Encyclopedia

Dictionary of Fictional Characters



Universal Encyclopedia of Mathematics



Mosby's Medical & Nursing Dictionary

Duncan's Dictionary for Nurses

Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary

Pocket Medical Dictionary

Stedman's Medical Dictionary

Blakiston's New Gould Medical Dictionary

Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary

American Illustrated Medical Dictionary

Medical Dictionary and Health Manual



The Browser's Book of Beginnings

A Book about a Thousand Things

Dictionary of Misinformation

Myth Information



The Rock Snob's Dictionary

Music Theory Dictionary

Concise Oxford Dictionary of opera

Lectionary of Music

Harvard Dictionary of Music

Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians



Dictionary of Classical Mythology

Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and

The Dictionary of World Myth

Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology

Dictionary of Mythology



Name Dictionary



Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework


Old West

Dictionary of the Old West



Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion

New Dictionary of Existentialism

Oxford Companion to Philosophy

A Dictionary of Existentialism

Philosophical Dictionary (Voltaire)

A Dictionary of Philosophy (Flew)

A Dictionary of Philosophy (Lacey)

Philosophical Dictionary (Bunge)

Philosophy (Angeles)

Dictionary of Political Thought 



Focal Encyclopedia of Photography



Dictionary of Proverbs (Flavell)

Random House Dictionary of Proverbs 

Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs



Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychology

Oxford Dictionary of Psychology 

Psychiatric Dictionary

Freud Dictionary of Psychanalysis



Bloomsbury Treasury of Quotations



Dictionary of All Scriptures and Myths

Dictionary of Saints

Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions

Penguin Dictionary of Religions

Oxford Dictionary of Popes 

Watkins Dictionary of Religions and Secular Faiths

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature

Encyclopedia of Hell




Complete Rhyming Dictionary  (Wood)

Capricorn Rhyming Dictionary



Science Class You Wish You Had

Dictionary of Scientific Literacy

Dictionary of Science and Creationism

Dictionary of Natural Resources

Dictionary of Forestry

Penguin Dictionary of Biology 



Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary


Sign Language

Signed English Dictionary



Wilsstch's Dictionary of Similes

Similes Dictionary



Dictionary of Americanisms

A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English

American Slang

Thesaurus of Slang

The Slang of Sin



Penguin Dictionary of Sociology

Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology


Social Reform

Dictionary of American Social Reform 


Special Dictionaries

Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary

Reverse Dictionary

Webster's Dictionary Game 

Webster's Crossword Puzzle Dictionary



How Did It Begin?

Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions 



Mammoth Dictionary of Symbols

Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art

Herder Symbol Dictionary

A Dictionary of Symbols (Cirlot) 

Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols

Dictionary of Symbols (Penguin)

Dictionary of Symbolism

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols




Roget's Thesaurus

Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus 

Synonym Finder

Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms

Comprehensive Word Guide

Thinker's Thesaurus

Crabb's English Synonyms



Robotics Sourcebook and Dictionary 

The Way Things Work: Illustrated Encyclopedia of Technology



Dictionary of Modern English Usage

Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar

Webster's Dictionary of English Usage


Visual Dictionary

Ultimate Visual Dictionary



Dr. Johnson's Reliquary of Rediscovered Words

Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words

One-letter Words 

International Dictionary of Obscenity

Heavens to Betsy 

Wicked Words

Dictionary of Uncommon Words

Dictionary of Obsolete English

The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate

When Is a Pig a Hog

There's a Word for It

The Word Lover's Dictionary

The Descriptionary of Confusable Words

Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions

F Word


Writing Reference

Elements of Style

Writer's Reference 





Use of the word “references” here refers to general dictionaries, subject-area dictionaries, subject-area encyclopedias, and thesauri. I’ve also included some books on references that provide information on the development of dictionaries over the centuries and provide context on the various approaches to and trends in lexicography displayed in the BLRL’s collection. It does not include a significant number of other volumes in the BLRL’s holdings that straddle the line between non-fiction and reference, such as writing guides, how-to books, field guides, and the like.