Translator’s library


Today, most translators use the Internet to look for new words, trivia, acronyms and such things. But as some still prefer looking things up in books, and as this is often a faster method I will give some tips on useful books and a few CD-Rom  or DVD disks. Most of those are cheap paperback editions or can be found secondhand. Many of the authors cited have written other works of the same kind – look for them at or some other Internet bookshop. 

The age-old Duden Bildwörterbuch technique, meaning that the same images are used with identically numbered items in books in several languages, can often be used also with books that were originally not intended for this: Books like Reader’s Digest’s different manuals are often published with basically the same material and illustrations in many languages. The same goes for books on e.g. card games, sail ships, weapons, etc.


General information sources:

Robert I. Berkman, Find It Fast: How to Uncover Expert Information on Any Subject Online or in Print (HarperResource Book, 2000, ppb., 400 p.)

Fargis, Paul (ed.), The New York Public Library Desk Reference (2002, 4 ed., Hyperion, 999 p., hardback but cheap). NYPL librarians' answers to the most frequent questions about everything, especially American. There are also specialised NYPL reference book on Business, Science, History, etc.


Room, Adrian, An A to Z of British Life (1990, OUP, also published as Dictionary of Britain). The non-Brit's dictionary of practically everything that is evident to the British.

Axelrod, Alan et al., Penguin Dictionary of American Folklore, (Viking Press, 2000, 544 p.) Provides definitions for more than 750 terms pertaining to all aspects of American folklore.

Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (2001, Cassell Reference, ppb, is just one of many editions). A legendary work of reference  from 1870, but brought up to date and very useful.

Room, Adrian, Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable (2000, Cassell Reference. Ppb ed. 2002)

Jonathan Law, et al, The Macmillan Dictionary of Contemporary Phrases and Fables, (Pan, 2002, ppb, 687 p.)

Room, Adrian,  Brewer’s Dictionary of Names. People & Places & Things (1999, Helicon, ppb). Room's two books contain modern material of the same kind as Brewer’s.

Rees, Nigel, Dictionary of Phrase and Allusion (1993, Bloomsbury, ppb). Useful.

Rules of the Game : The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of All the Sports of the World (1995, St. Martin's Press, ppb). Sports dictionaries exist in many languages; as concepts are usually very similar, the Duden technique can be used.

Parlett, David, Penguin Encyclopedia of Card Games (2000, ppb). Can be used in the same way in combination with similar books in other languages.

Scheck, Denis, King Kong, Spock & Drella. Was Sie schon immer über amerikanische Popkultur wissen wollten (1995, Knaur, ppb). Hard to find, but valuable.  

Bohn, H.G., A polyglot of foreign proverbs, (1968, AMS Press, New York).

Carbonell Basset, Delfin, Diccionario de Refranes, Proverbios, Dichos, Adagios, Castellano e Ingles (1998, Barrons, ppb).


Abbreviations and acronyms:

Fergusson, Rosalind, New Penguin Dictionary of Abbreviations (2000, ppb, 448 p.) 

American Heritage Abbreviations Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002, ppb, 304 p.)


Quotations etc.:

Fergusson, Rosalind, Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs (2001, ppb)

Stevenson, Burton, Stevenson's Book of Quotations Classical and Modern (many eds before 1943, around 2800 pages). Hard to find, but very valuable.

Knowles, Elizabeth (Editor),The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1999, OUP, ppb. OUP has many specialised Quotation Dictionaries)

Andrews, Robert, Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1998, Cassell, ppb)

Crawley, Tony, Dictionary of Film Quotations (1998, Wordsworth, ppb) 

Miner, M.& Rawson, H., Dictionary of Quotations from Shakespeare (Penguin Reference, ppb)

There are also many specialised Chambers quotation books (ppb).


Slang & idioms:

McArthur, Tom, Oxford Guide to World English (2002, ppb 2003, OUP). Analysis of the vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar of English varieties, from Brummie to Spanglish.

Gulland, D.M. & Hinds-Howell, D., Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms (2001, ppb)

Partridge, Eric, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937 and in many later editions, with various titles). Historical slang.

Green, Jonathon, Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (1998; ppb 2002). 1316 pp, 70 000 words, 500 titles in the bibliography, reasonable dating. Covers UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, S. Africa and the anglophone West Indies. What more can you ask for?

Thorne, Tony, Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (1999, Bloomsbury, ppb). British and ex-colonies.

Chapman, Robert L. et al., Dictionary of American Slang (1998, HarperCollins) (Abridged ppb ed. also exists)

Spears, Richard A., Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions (2000, NTC, ppb)

Dickson, Paul, War Slang. American fighting Words and Phrases Since the Civil War (2 ed. 2004, Brassey's, ppb). Up to 9/11 and the Iraq War. "That seems to be one of the nicer things about war--it enriches the language so." (Robert C. Ruark)  

Major, Clarence, Juba to Jive. A Dictionary of African-American Slang (1994, Penguin ppb)

Holmén, Stefan, Pundartugg. Narkotikarelaterade slanguttryck (1997, Polishögskolan, Stockholm). Drug slang terms in several languages.

Dalzell, Tom, Flappers 2 Rappers - American Youth Slang (Merriam-Webster 1996 ppb) Youth slang 1920-90.

Dalzell, Tom, The Slang of Sin (Merriam-Webster 1998 ppb) All kinds of sin, not just what you are thinking of.

Lewis, Chris, The Dictionary of Playground Slang and A Compendium of Playground Games (2003, Allison & Busby Ltd, ppb)

Spears, Richard A., Slang and Euphemism: A Dictionary of Oaths, Curses, Insults, Ethnic Slurs, Sexual Slang and Metaphor, Drug Talk, College Lingo, and Related Matters (2001, Signet, ppb)

Poteet, Lewis J. et al., Car & Motorcycle Slang (2000,, ppb)

Deak, Etienne et Simone, Grand dictionnaire d'américanismes (1993, Èds du Dauphin)

Colin, Jean-Paul et al., Dictionnaire de l'argot (2001, Larousse). Excellent

Strutz, Henry, Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions (1999, Barron’s, ppb)

Krop, Pascal, Tu fais l'avion par terre. Dico franco-africain (1995, J.-C. Lattès)

Alexandre, Michel, Le Langage Quotidien de la Police (1997, Liber)

Sournia, Jean-Charles, Langage médical français (1997, Eds Privat)

Ehmann, Hermann, Voll Konkret. Das neueste Lexikon der Jugendsprache (2001, C.H.Beck)

Küpper, Heinz, Wörterbuch der deutschen Umgangssprache, 65 000 words, on 1 CD-ROM: Windows 95-NT, Digitale Bibliothek, 2000, 35 Euro

Wippermann, Peter, Wörterbuch der Szenensprache (2000, Duden, ppb)

Wörterbuch Medizin (2000, DTV, ppb)

Gobetti, Daniela, Dictionary of Italian Slang and Colloquial Expressions (1999, Barron’s, ppb)

Rosten, Leo Calvin et al., The New Joys of Yiddish (2001, Crown Pub)

Shlyakhov, Vladimir, et al., Dictionary of Russian Slang and Colloquial Expressions (1999, Barron’s, ppb)

Carbonell Basset, Delfín,  An English and Spanish dictionary of slang and unconventional language (1997, Ed. del Serbal, Barcelona)

Mahler, Michael, Dictionary of Spanish Slang and Colloquial Expressions (2000, Barron’s, ppb)


“Bad” words 
are often excluded from dictionaries. Here are some sources:

Kunitskaya-Peterson, Christina, International Dictionary of Obscenities (In eight languages, but published in 1981 and hard to find)

McDonald, James, Dictionary of Obscenity, Taboo & Euphemism (1996, Wordsworth Reference, ppb)

Spears, Richard A., Forbidden American English (1998, NTC, ppb)

Hudson, Bob, First Australian Dictionary of Vulgarities & Obscenities (1987, David&Charles, ppb)

Rawson, Hugh, A Dictionary of Invective (1991, Robert Hale, ppb). Amusing.

Aman, Reinhold, Maledicta, 1977B96. A review that contains lots of information, but is hard to find B try folklore libraries.

Aman, Reinhold, Opus Maledictorum : A Book of Bad Words (1996, Marlowe, ppb) reprints some of the essays.

Thal, Hella, Schmutzige Wörter in acht Sprachen (1997, Eichborn, Frankfurt/Main, ppb). German into French, English, Italian, Portugese, Spanish and Turkish.



Encyclopaedia Britannica, 32 volumes, is very expensive, but there is a 2003 edition on CD-Rom or DVD that is more abordable (around 70 USD) and less place-demanding. It contains all the text and much more,e.g. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Student Dictionary and Thesaurus, a World Atlas and many good net links. It can be bought at, where one can also consult a very condensed version of the big work.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Ed. (ppb. 2001, Houghton Mifflin). The hardcover edition with CD-ROM version included is sold at a relatively low price. Can also be consulted via .

Oxford Pop-Up English Language Reference Shelf on CD-ROM is cheap and also gives you the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and the Oxford World Encyclopedia. It is electronically searchable. 

Le Petit Robert. Dictionnaire de la langue française. Version 2.2 now exists on CD-ROM. 60,000 words (with audible pronunciation), can be installed on the hard disk and in Word. Notes can be added to words.

Monaco, James, How to Read a Film. The World of Movies, Media and Multimedia. Language, History, Theory (2000, OUP). An excellent and up-to-date introduction to the changing world of film and TV.

Webster's Biographical Dictionary (1995, Merriam-Webster). Exists also on CD-ROM.

Webster's Geographical Dictionary (1997, Merriam-Webster). Also in ppb ed.

Cruden, Alexander, Cruden's Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testament (Lutterworth Press)

The Koran (Penguin ppb)


Updated 23.12.2005           <----Home          Top of page