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Reverse dictionary

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Title: Reverse dictionary  
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Reverse dictionary

A reverse dictionary is a dictionary organized in a non-standard order that provides the user with information that would be difficult to obtain from a traditionally alphabetized dictionary. For example, A Reverse Dictionary of the Spanish Language[1] and Walker's Rhyming Dictionary[2] are reverse dictionaries, the organization of which is based upon sorting each entry word based upon its last letter and the subsequent letters proceeding toward the beginning of that word. Consequently, in these reverse dictionaries all words that have the same suffix appear in order in the dictionary. Such a reverse dictionary would be useful for linguists and poets who might be looking for words ending with a particular suffix, or by an anthropologist or forensics specialist examining a damaged text (e.g. a stone inscription, or a burned document) that had only the final portion of a particular word preserved. Reverse dictionaries of this type have been published for most major alphabetical languages (see numerous examples listed below). By way of contrast, in a standard dictionary words are organized such that words with the same prefix appear in order, since the sorting order is starting with the first letter of the entry word and subsequent letters proceeding toward the end of that word.

Reverse dictionaries of this type were historically difficult to produce before the advent of the electronic computer and have become more common since the first computer sorted one (Stahl and Scavnicky's Reverse Spanish Dictionary) appeared in 1974.

Another use of the term "reverse dictionary" is for a reference work that is organized by concepts, phrases, or the definitions of words. This is in contrast to a standard dictionary, in which words are indexed by the headwords, but similar in function to a thesaurus, where one can look up a concept by some common, general word, and then find a list of near-synonyms of that word. (For example, in a thesaurus one could look up "doctor" and be presented with such words as healer, physician, surgeon, M.D., medical man, medicine man, academician, professor, scholar, sage, master, expert.) In theory, a reverse dictionary might go further than this, allowing you to find a word by its definition only (for example, to find the word "doctor" knowing only that he is a "person who cures disease"). Such dictionaries have become more practical with the advent of computerized information-storage and retrieval systems (i.e. computer databases).

An example of this type of reverse dictionary is the Diccionario Ideológico de la Lengua Española (Spanish Language Ideological Dictionary)[3] This allows the user to find words based on a small set of general concepts.

Word-based reverse dictionaries


  • Brown, A. F., Normal and reverse English word list, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Lehnert, Martin, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der englischen Gegenwartssprache, VEB Verlag Enzyklopädie, Leipzig, 1971.
  • McGovern, Una, Chambers back-words for crosswords: a reverse-sorted list, Chambers, Edinburgh, 2002
  • Muthmann, Gustav, Reverse English dictionary: based on phonological and morphological principles, Mouton de Gruyter, New York, 1999.
  • Walker, John, The rhyming dictionary of the English language: in which the whole language is arranged according to its terminations, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1983.

Other Languages

  • Alinei, M.L., Dizionario inverso italiano, con indici e liste di frequenza delle terminazioni, Mouton & Co., The Hague 1965.
  • Αναστασιάδη-Συμεωνίδη, Α. Αντίστροφο Λεξικό της Νέας Ελληνικής. Θεσσαλονίκη: Ινστιτούτο Νεοελληνικών Σπουδών, 2002.
  • Bielfeldt, H.H., Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der Russischen Sprache der Gegenwart, Akademie erlag, Berlin, 1958.
  • Boaque, I., Pérez, M., Diccionario inverso de la lengua española, Gredos, Madrid, 1987.
  • Bruckner, T., Rückläufige Wortliste zum heutigen Deutsch, Institut für Deutsche Sprache, Mannheim, 1986.
  • Gradenwitz, Otto, Laterculi vocum latinarum, G. Olms, Hildesheim, 1966.
  • Hecker, Karl, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch des Akkadischen, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1990.
  • Hinderling, Robert, Rückläufiges estnisches Wörterbuch = Eesti keele pöördsõnaraamat (Sõnalõpuline leksikon) = Reverse dictionary of the Estonian language, Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät der Universität Bayreuth, Bayreuth, 1979.
  • Juilland, A., Dictionnaire inverse de la langue française, Mouton, The Hague, 1965.
  • Κουρμούλης Γ. Αντίστροφον λεξικόν της Νέας Ελληνικής. Δεύτερη Έκδοση. Αθήνα: Παπαδήμας, 2002.
  • Krueger, John Richard, Mongolian epigraphical dictionary in reverse listing, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1967.
  • Kubiyak, Yel, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch des türkischen, Landeck, Frankfurt, 2004.
  • Kuhn, Karl Georg, Rückläufiges hebräisches Wörterbuch, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1958
  • Mater, Erich, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der deutschen Gegenwartssprache CD-ROM, Straelener Ms.-Verlag, Straelen, 2001 ISBN 3-89107-047-0
  • Mitrevski, George, Macedonian Reverse Dictionary = Македонски обратен речник.
  • Muthmann, Gustav, Rückläufiges deutsches Wörterbuch: Handbuch der Wortausgänge im Deutschen, mit Beachtung der Wort- und Lautstruktur, Niemeyer, Tübingen, 2001.
  • Nieuwborg, E.R., Retrograde woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal, Kluwer Technische Boeken, Deventer, 1978.
  • Papp, Ferenc, A magyar nyelv szóvégmutató szótára [Reverse-alphabetized dictionary of the Hungarian language]. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1969, 2nd ed.: 1994. ISBN 9630567326
  • Rozycki, William, A reverse index of Manchu, Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1981.
  • Sander, Ruth and Kerstin Mayerhofer, Retrograde Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2010. ISBN 978-3-525-55007-6
  • Schwarz, Wolfgang, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch des Altindischen = Reverse index of old Indian, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1974-1978.
  • Stahl, Fred A., Scavnicky, Gary E. A., A Reverse Dictionary of the Spanish Language, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL, 1974.
  • Tuomi, Tuomo (ed.), Suomen kielen käänteissanakirja – Reverse Dictionary of Modern Standard Finnish, Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura, 1980. ISBN 951-717-002-5.
  • Vietze, Hans Peter, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der mongolischen Sprache, Verlag Enzyklopädie, Leipzig, 1976.
  • Zimmer, Stefan, A reverse dictionary of modern Welsh = Geiriadur gwrthdroadol Cymraeg diweddar, Buske, Hamburg, 1987.

Definition-based reverse dictionaries


  • Bernstein, Theodore, Bernstein's Reverse Dictionary, Crown, New York, 1975.
  • Edmonds, David (ed.), The Oxford Reverse Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999.
  • Kahn, John, Reader's Digest Reverse Dictionary, Reader's Digest, London, 1989.


See also

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