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.
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
… 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 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.
[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.
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!
*** 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Professor and the Madman
The Meaning of Everything
Word By Word
Defining the World
Basic Catholic Dictionary
New Concise Catholic Dictionary
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
Dictionary Of Cliches
Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory
Dictionary of Global Culture
Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
Concise Glossary of Cultural Theory
Dictionary of Bad Manners
Wordsworth Dictionary of Dreams
Dream Dictionary from A to Z
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
Dictionary of Bullshit
The Film Snob's Dictionary
of Film Quotation
Barron's Dictionary of Financial Investment Terms
Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore
Dictionary of Fairies
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
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)
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
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
Black's 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
Oxford Guide to British Women Writers
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
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
Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework
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)
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
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
Dictionary of Biology
Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary
Signed English Dictionary
Wilsstch's Dictionary of Similes
Dictionary of Americanisms
A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
Thesaurus of Slang
The Slang of Sin
Penguin Dictionary of Sociology
Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology
Dictionary of American Social Reform
Descriptionary: A Thematic 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
Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus
Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms
Comprehensive Word Guide
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
Dr. Johnson's Reliquary of Rediscovered Words
Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words
International Dictionary of Obscenity
Heavens to Betsy
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
Elements of Style
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.