By Jennifer Stevenson
I collect old editions of thesauri, phrasebooks, familiar quotations, and weird specialty lexicons. Some just sit on my shelf, unloved. Others get used every day. Here’s some favorites, many of which you can get very reasonably at online used book outlets.
Best all time favorite:
1. Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, by Peter Mark Roget, M.D., F.R.S.
Grosset & Dunlap New York, revised 1935 edition
This book will not offer “text” as a verb. However, it’ll give you words you wished you knew and never knew existed. Handle it gently. The pages are brittle.
2. Barlett's Familiar Quotations, by John Bartlett. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto, thirteenth and Centennial edition.
I have both the thirteenth (1955) and the sixteenth (1992) editions. Yes, they're different. Just browsing gives you an idea what sort of education the author/editors felt the users would have, or would want to give the impression they have.
3. The Big Book of Filth: 6500 sex slang words and phrases, Jonathan Green ed. Cassell, London, 2002 paperback.
Unbelievably handy for someone whose characters from 1795 through 2010 talk dirty.
4. 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, ed. Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1988.
When you need a name and slash or function slash appearance for a demon, alien, vampire, or just a bizarre character. Superior to, but not by any means completely overlapping with:
5. A Dictionary of Angels: including the fallen angels, by Gustav Davidson. The Free Press, New York, 1971
This is grossly historically inaccurate but full of fun stuff. I use it for a fantasy fiction idea source, definitely not for nonfiction work.
These three have lots of overlap but it’s hard to say which I like better:
6. A Dictionary of Euphemisms, by R.A. Holder. Oxford University Press, 1996.
7. A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk, by Hugh Rawson. Crown, New York, 1980.
8. The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Buckish slang, university wit and pickpocket eloquence, by a member of the Whip Club. Studio Editions Ltd., London, 1994.
The third is the real goods, supplying authentic English Regency slang, much of it impolite, from altitudes to zedland.
9. Butler’s Lives of the Saints, concise edition, Michael Walsh, ed. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1985.
This is the short version. Good for many things. Think about it.
10. Backstage Handbook, by Paul Carter. Broadway Press, Louisville KY, 1994, third edition.
When I need stagehand geek stuff and my spousal unit isn’t around to tell me the answers.
11. A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve, F.R.H.S., Mrs. C.F.Leyel, Ed. Dorset Press, New York, 1992.
Written in 1931, edited, in 1973. Handy if you want to poison someone in the country.
12. A Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion, by Ludmila Kybalová, Oldga Herbenová, and Milena Lamarová, translated by Claudia Rosoux. Hamlyn Publishing Group, New York, 1968.
Has over 1,000 pictures, all useful, although I could wish for more underwear.
Sometimes you can find gems like these in the dusty, unloved section of a used book store and so save on shipping & handling. But when you gotta know what your Regency earl had under his inexpressables and what he called it, and you need to know before your galleys go in on Tuesday, there's nothing like the online outlets.