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A long time ago, I dropped by a session of a creative writing course where the teacher brought a lot of reference books. One of them was a lovely picture/sketch-based identification dictionary. There were vivid drawings of a Regency ballroom, and each of the items in the room had a tag that showed their name. There were also lots of other things -- wardrobe and coats with all their parts named, obscure house parts, etc. No idea what it's called.

I've been trying to find a good subject-based visual dictionary like that. I often don't know how to describe a particular furniture or clothing item exactly, and it would be lovely to just be able to look up a picture, then read the tag that points to the name of the item in the picture!

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"... to look up a picture, then read the tag that points to the name of the item in the picture!" that makes it more of a Thesaurus? –  Kris Dec 19 '11 at 5:48

3 Answers 3

What you remember was possibly one of the DK visual dictionaries, which are brilliantly done and quite memorable. (I have the DK Illustrated Oxford Dictionary on my bookshelf as I write this.)

The is also a Facts on File Visual Dictionary, sitting right beside the Oxford.

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The Ultimate Visual Dictionary, which is one of the DK visual dictionaries, seems excellent from the link you gave! There are many narrowly scoped DK visual dictionaries, but they are sold separately. If one wanted a broad general visual dictionary, DK's Ultimate Visual Dictionary looks great: For children, adults, students, all ages! I wonder how it compares to the M-K? –  Ellie Kesselman Dec 18 '11 at 23:34

They used to be called 'Illustrated Dictionaries' as I remember from a long time ago. Today, though, it's only the children's dictionaries that one more often sees richly illustrated.

Why, even Google has the two distinct: 'Search Images' & 'Search Web', which I find pretty disconcerting most of the time.

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EDIT
I found a current hard-copy version of the Merriam Webster Visual Dictionary. 2010 Merriam-Webster's VISUAL Dictionary in English for all ages (cover image) In fact, it IS suited for all ages and audiences. This includes children, adults and even medical students and physicians, I was surprised to find, based on this post (Cases Medical and Health Blog):

The new Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary incorporates thousands of color illustrations organized by subject area... useful to patients and students. The full-color pictorial images are grouped into chapters outlining major themes such as:

  • Earth
  • Plants & gardening
  • Animal kingdom
  • Human beings
  • Food & kitchen
  • Clothing & accessories
  • Arts & architecture
  • Communications
  • Transportation & machinery
  • Science
  • Sports & games

I really like the Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary. The online version is the only one I am familiar with, although I believe it is available in print. It is free to access online, as far as I can tell.

There is also a Visual Thesaurus, but that is more about diagramming word relationships using network-style visualization. The Visual Dictionary Online is definitely focused on pictures and images, just as you described.

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