Book Review: In which Sci reads the Dictionary

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, Sci LOVES getting books in the mail. Even if I paid for them, I still love seeing them show up in a box. Even better is when I pick them out of a store and get to cuddle them on the way home. So you can imagine how happy Sci was to see this show up at the door:
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I’ve always wanted a specialized psychiatric dictionary, almost as bad as I’ve wanted a specialized pharmacologic dictionary. It’s a good thing to have handy, and is an even cooler thing to get in the mail. So Sci pranced around happily with her dictionary for a minute. All I have to do is review it and…
…and then Sci realized she was going to have to READ THE DICTIONARY.
Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary, 9th Edition, by Robert J. Campbell, MD.


So Sci had a big “oh shit” moment. Then she started in on the A’s.
In the end, I’ll admit I didn’t read every word. In fact, I didn’t read every letter. I went through looking at words that caught my eye. And I read in detail the As, Ns, and Ys, to give myself a decent handle on it. So I guess you could say this book review is cheating in that I did not read the entire book. But who, in their lifetime, reads the entire dictionary, unless of course you’re one of those world record people. Or in prison (I met a guy who was going to prison once. He said he wanted to read the Bible and the Dictionary).
So here you are. My cheating book review.
I took a look at the site on Amazon while I was snagging that photo of the front cover. JAMA gave it a review that was quite glowing. And I suppose it should be, seeing as the book is in its 9th edition. And it is indeed a pretty comprehensive listing of every word that could possibly be used in psychiatry, including a whole bunch that Sci had never heard of and which she enjoyed immensely, and which she will share at the end of the post.
But I have to admit that I had some problems with it. I found them while reading through the A’s, and checked the N’s and Y’s to see whether the problems persisted. They did indeed, and so I’m going to cover them. Keep in mind, though, I still find the book comprehensive, and I shall be happy to have it in my library for reference.
First of all, the book is advertised as being for both the psychiatrist and the lay person. It is NOT for the lay person. That’s not a bad thing, psychiatrists need dictionaries, too, but the second definition (“A68: A filament protein that is immunoreactive to ALP-50, a monoclonal antibody…”) will let you know you’re playing with the big boys now. So I kind of wish that the dictionary were a little more accessible, but this isn’t unexpected.
More importantly, I had a problem with some of the definitions. Some of the words used commonly in psychiatry nowadays are derivations or translations from words in other languages, or are merely said in ways that are more simple than they used to be. But it doesn’t really help to see a definition where only the translation is offered, or which is only one word, without a helpful “see x”.
Secondly, the book is an interesting cross between a traditional dictionary and something of an encyclopedia. Some of the entries for various words are quite long, and while this is interesting (especially when the author details some interesting or seminal experiments related to the topic), a lot of times the extended entry is not actually part of the pure definition. Sometimes the definition feels disjointed and disconnected, as though you were reading the last half of an encyclopedia entry. This can make life difficult when you’re looking at a word you’ve never seen before, and the definition is…not really there.
It is also not always necessary to go into encyclopedia-like detail in a dictionary. When I’m reading a definition of a word, I’m not necessarily interested in the advantages and disadvantages of the technique it describes. Rather, I’m interested in a strict definition, as simple as possible. If I wanted to know what people believed about a theory or thought about it, I would consult a review, or perhaps an encyclopedia. I will say that this kind of adds to the dictionary and makes it more informative, but it also makes it more unwieldy, and it is unfortunate that only some words have extensive definitions.
A similar problem occurs in this book, in that some of the definitions are in fact quotations of famous people on some specific topic. To use one of my favorite words, the entry for “Addiction” is an entire quote by Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Unfortunately, though the quote can sometimes relate very closely, a lot of times the quote is not ACTUALLY the definition of the word. It’s more something on the topic, or something Freud said on the topic, without actually being the definition. Yet again, this is an issue when you’re trying to get a very specific definition for a word.
So those are my problems with it. But the dictionary has a great many advantages. For example, I’m not sure that there IS another psychiatry dictionary out there. And obviously, since it’s now in its 9th edition, other people do not agree with Sci on some of her criticisms. And heck, Sci learned a whole bunch of AWESOME new words!!! Some examples:

abderite
: someone who is stupid. Sci wants to use this in her daily speech.
eosophobia: fear of dawn. Sci doesn’t FEAR the dawn so much as the whole getting out of bed bit.
merycism: voluntary regurgitation of food, so you can chew it again, like a cow chewing cud. Apparently people actually do this.
penis captivus: apparently a problem in sex wherein the withdrawal of the penis is impossible. The penis is quite captivated, as one might say.
And those are only a few. So while I have some issues with the book, it’s a great place for learning new words, not to mention some interesting definitions. But it might be a little tough on those wanting to read it A-Z.
Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary, 9th Edition, by Robert J. Campbell, MD:
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7 Responses

  1. Oh, boy, new esoteric words! I want a copy of that book!
    I wonder what the adjectival form of “abderite” might be? It gets old using the words “stupid” and “idiotic” all of the time!
    Yeah, I’m a bit of a snob, and I watch too much TV!

  2. Mmm…dictionaries.🙂
    If you like reading dictionaries, here’s something that could potentially waste hours of your time (and possibly turn your brain to mush so that we can scoop it right out because we’re aliens and that’s how we roll, baby)

  3. A similar problem occurs in this book, in that some of the definitions are in fact quotations of famous people on some specific topic.
    This bugs the hell out of me in a big way. While I definitely appreciate that some definitions just aren’t simple enough to put down in a couple of lines, I hate it when dictionaries get all encyclopedic. And this just takes the cake. I find the use of quotes for definitions entirely inappropriate and fucking useless.
    Larry –
    “Abderitic”? Even if it doesn’t have an adjective form, I would most certainly use it – but I am all about that sort of thing.

  4. Are you sure you want to revive this word? “The Abderite” was Democritus, the ancient atomist philosopher whose materialistic and atheistic world view probably came closest to that of modern science (and the revival of whose views, in the 17th century, played a significant role in bringing on the scientific revolution), and was renowned for his cheerful disposition.
    It looks to me as though “abderite” could well carry the implication of “stupid because you do not live in proper fear of the gods (or God), or because you are too much concerned with the physical world at the expense of ‘higher’ things.” (I hear echoes of Plato’s anti-scientific story of Thales falling down the well shaft because he was too preoccupied with studying the stars.)
    WEBSTER 1928 edition:
    AB’DERITE, n. An inhabitant of Abdera, a maritime town in Thrace. Democritus is so called, from being a native of the place. As he was given to laughter, foolish or incessant laughter, is call abderian.
    (“Abderite” does not appear in the O.E.D., but some online sources say the Greeks regarded the people of Abdera in general as stupid, rather than Democritus in particular.)

  5. Nigel: Whoa. I didn’t realize! Ok, Abderite is out. I would hate to accidentally insult science! I’m keeping penis captivus, though.🙂

  6. Penis captivus? Congrats for making my week there Sci.

  7. I’m keeping penis captivus, though.🙂
    I was racking my brain in class this morning, trying to think up a witty retort that wasn’t just a shade to raunchy and offensive.
    If I think of one I’ll let you know…

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