1001 Words You Need to Know and Use: An A–Z of effective vocabulary

by Martin H Manser (Oxford University Press, 2010): 176pp, £6.99 (pbk), ISBN 978 0 19 956005 9.

Reviewed by Caroline Petherick

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This book looks as though it will fill a gap in my editing armoury. I do some work for writers in the commercial world, and this is the market for which the book is intended.

Dictionary, usage guide and thesaurus

It's a cross between a dictionary, usage guide and thesaurus. The main idea behind the book is that, when you're working on a text whose subject falls within a particular register, you may be lost for a word. You ascertain from the table of contents that your subject is among the 16 listed:

  • application letters
  • attention, catching
  • bids
  • CVs
  • essays
  • evaluating
  • events, describing
  • good qualities
  • interviews
  • motivating, persuading
  • opinions, expressing
  • places, describing
  • reports
  • topics, discussing
  • products or services
  • intervention, mediation, negotiation.

Then, just as in a thesaurus, you go to the end section of the book. Here, each subject is shown as a heading, with, listed below it in alphabetical order, words that are typically used in texts relevant to that subject. There are some 200–600 words listed under each heading.

Again, as in a thesaurus, you may find exactly the word you want in this listing, but if not, you then have the option of delving further. This is where thesaurus becomes usage guide: the main part of the book is an alphabetical listing of all the words in the end section, each one with a dictionary definition and a guide to usage.

Pinning down that elusive element

One of its main uses for me will be when an author – maybe non-native, maybe merely Malapropian – has used a word that's very nearly, but not quite, right. When this happens, it's much harder for me to come up with just the right word than when either there's no word or it's obviously wrong, and I can spend quite a while digging through Roget to pin down the elusive element. I'm hoping that my task will be speeded by the pre-selection offered me by this book.

Unfortunately, however, it doesn't cover academic writing, the field of most of my non-native writers, so it may be a while before I can put it to the test for real. But I'm looking forward to doing so.

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