Query: the solution to the problem will recreate the problem

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sun Jan 28 21:20:12 UTC 2001

On Thu, 25 Jan 2001 12:22:53  either "Nichols, Wendalyn"
<WNichols at RANDOMHOUSE.COM>  or  mike salovesh
<salovesh at niu.edu> wrote:

>There's a common thread in Marie's question and my memory of having lost
>the word "iatrogenic" time and again until events finally fixed it in my
>head.  I'd love to head what some of our leading dictionary experts have
>to say about something no dictionary ever solves for me.  What do you do
>when you know there's a word for something, but have no memory of the
>word itself?

>I just thought of an example that has frustrated me more than once. What
>do you call a writing system that begins in a corner, goes in one
>direction until it comes to the other side of the writing surface, then
>turns around and goes back?  One line is written from left to right, the
>next from right to left, and so on.  I know that there is a word for
>that; I even think I remember that its etymology has to do with the way
>oxen (or is that mules or horses?) would pull a simple plow across a
>field. But I can't look it up until I remember it, at which point I
>won't need to look it up.

>There just doesn't seem to be any way a dictionary could help me with
>that kind of problem.  The only way I can think of that might produce an
>answer would be to ask
>anybody and everybody I can talk to if they happen to know the word. . .
>If I ever found someone claiming to know, then I'd have something to
>take to a dictionary for verification.  But where is there a dictionary
>equivalent of a criss-cross (or reverse) telephone directory?

>P.S.:  Funny how memory works.  All of a sudden I have the impression
>that the word I seek for a kind of writing system starts, maybe, with
>something like "bucepholo- "  I'll go to the next room and check it out
>in our collection of dictionaries -- on my way to bed, after I log off
>this system.

In Greek "cow" is "bous" and from there a dictionary will take you to
"boustrophedon".  However, I must admit I already knew the word.  The same
dictionary said that the Latin is "bos"---is this where we get the nickname
"Bossie" for a cow?

You were thinking of Bucephalus, who was Alexander the Great's horse.  The
name may mean "ox-head".  Herakles was given the epithet of "buphagus", "ox
eater".   There is also Bellerophon, who rode Pegasus (the crewmen on HMS
Bellerophon called her the "Billy Ruffian"), Bucellarian (a Byzantine
mercenary), and brucellosis.

To look up a meaning and find the word---that is one function of a Thesaurus
(which I keep trying to construe as "holy lizard").  Roget's Thesaurus
stubbornly sticks to its policy of grouping synonyms into numbered
categories, instead of doing what word processors do and giving you a list of
synonyms for a given word.  Roget's method takes a little more work but casts
a wider net.

I recently saw a book entitled, if I remember correctly, "Reverse
Dictionary".  A typical page in it had a picture of a horse with all the
parts of a horse labelled and a list of horse-related words.

A printed dictionary cannot usually help you find a word if you only have a
concept.  However, an on-line dictionary (or the entire World Wide Web)
offers the capability of searching by individual words or phrases, and if you
are lucky enough to guess a useful word or phrase, the search engine will
find your answer.  (If you're unlucky, you'll fail to get your answer and/or
drown in a sea of irrelevancies).  That's the idea behind the World Wide
Web---if you have a big enough database and some patience, you can find

                  - Jim Landau

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