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Is there a place or a type of dictionary or even a good method, that instead of searching for a word, I can search for a meaning and get more words that have similar idea or meaning?

For example, if I had an idea in my mind say, "walk up the bus". I can then search for this idea and then get words such as board, hop on, alight, etc. I thought that if there is such a tool, it would be very helpful in my writing because sometimes, I need to look for a particular word to describe or add effects to an action or event but I couldn't. The thesaurus works but say in the example given, if I entered "walk" into the thesaurus, it may give me other words like stroll, stride, etc and not what I really want because the keyword "bus" isn't considered in the search. Similarly, if there is such a tool, instead of walk, I could search "walk hastily", that could give me words that describe the action of walking quickly.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

OneLook's Reverse Dictionary seems to offer precisely the kind of tool you're looking for.

However, I don't know that they're very good - I tried get on a plane, but board came back as result #96, well after slip (#3), touchdown (#50), precession of the equinoxes (#66), and fayez banihammad (#85).

From my superficial familiarity with computer language recognition, what you're describing is a pretty tough problem. Your intuitive definitions-of-unknown-words don't correspond to any existing searchable body of text, so language recognition would need to work based on the degree words are associated with each other, and that can get pretty wonky and unexpected. I don't see a better solution than asking human beings - English.SE, for example, is probably great for word identification.

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English.SE is absolutely the right place. Word choice is explicitly on-topic there. –  justkt Aug 24 '11 at 12:58
    
Then what's the difference between English SE and Writing SE? –  xenon Aug 26 '11 at 2:11
    
@xEnOn: English.SE is specifically about English language & usage: grammar, word choice, etymology, that sort of thing. Writers.SE is for issues faced by people who write for a living (in whatever language, though they do need to ask in English): plotting, publishing, proofreading, etc. –  Martha Aug 26 '11 at 13:54
    
What about WordNet? The 'concept' could an uncommon sense of an existing word. The writer first needs to think of a 'close enough' word and work their way through WN's synonym trees from there. –  Mussri May 27 '13 at 19:02
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Reverse dictionaries being what they are[1], often your best bet is to think of a word that sorta-kinda fits the concept — maybe not the best fit, just something in the right ballpark — and then use a thesaurus to find a better word. (Rinse and repeat as necessary.)

If you decide to ask on English.SE, make sure you show your work: describe what words you've found/tried, and why they're not quite what you want.

[1] That is, more or less useless.

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