The Highly Selective Dictionary For The Extraordinarily Literate (1997)

“The Highly Selective Dictionary can be thought of as an antidote to the ongoing, poisonous effects wrought by the forces of linguistic darkness—aided by permissive lexicographers who blithely acquiesce to the depredations of unrestrained language butchers.”


—Eugene Ehrlich, Preface to The Highly Selective Dictionary For The Extraordinarily Literate.

Eugene Ehrlich’s The Highly Selective Dictionary For The Extraordinarily Literate (Harper Collins, 1997) is a treasure trove of obscure words. The 192 page book is divided into six sections, Acknowledgements, a Preface, Pronunciation Notes, a Introduction and, lastly, The Dictionary proper and features such obtuse and oft-unuttered words as blatherskite (a person given to blathering), dysphemism (a unpleasant or derogatory word or phrase substituted for a more pleasant and less offensive one) and galimatias (confused or unintelligible talk).

One of the unique strengths of the book is its omission of commonplace words whose meaning(s) are widely known (such as “door,” or, “car”). In leaving aside [near]omnipresent words, the book focuses wholly on those words a common English reader is apt not to know, which sets it apart from other reference dictionaries that include words which most, quite simply, will not ever need to look-up. It might also be remarked that the proliferation of the internet, which was not so pronounced upon the writing of the book as it is now, further mitigates the need to include commonplace words in reference dictionaries, given the readiness with which they can be accessed through the web.

However, simply because one can find obscure words online doesn’t mean that one will (in a suitable timeframe, if at all)—hence the importance of having a reference book to hand. To this end, The Highly Selective Dictionary is excellent.

You can find the book online at Thriftbooks, Amazon, or Ebay.

Cover image: Man wearing Gernsback Isolator (invented 1925) at writing desk.