Help me expand my descriptive vocabulary!
March 14, 2015 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn some more vocabulary to describe nature and architecture for my writing. I love elaborate descriptions in 19th century literature, but I have no idea about the names of most flowers and trees, and I have no idea how to describe various types of architectural in anything but the vaguest terms.

What are some good ways to learn? Is there an architecture 101 book I can read? How do I learn the names of building materials? How about learning names of trees and flowers? Or landscape features?

Websites, books, online classes, and any other resources would be fantastic!
posted by lightgray to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You might be interested in this linked essay (and the book it's about) on nature words in English, and a related AskMe about nature vocabulary.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:30 PM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

For the trees, you could get this guide. They make one for flowers too.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 3:45 PM on March 14, 2015

And here's a dictionary of architectural terms.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 3:49 PM on March 14, 2015

Are you thinking about American architecture and flora? Or some other location? Knowing that might help generate more focused answers.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:13 PM on March 14, 2015

Used bookstores have great reference books with stuff like that for cheap.
posted by dawkins_7 at 4:18 PM on March 14, 2015

A Visual Dictionary of Architecture might help.
posted by ourobouros at 8:05 PM on March 14, 2015

Experiencing Architecture, if you are interested in describing the experience of it rather than technical appearance.
posted by sepviva at 5:05 AM on March 15, 2015

You might also like Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez, in which different writers define landscape terms.
posted by megancita at 7:02 AM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

As an architect, I usually point people to Francis Chings's Form, Space and Order for an introduction to architectural vocabulary and concepts. The book combines many of the ideas presented in the books above but with a more general overview and then delves into the more complex.
posted by Benway at 7:55 AM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

One part of fun about language is NOT to use jargon, but instead, find commonly understanding analogies that nobody had used before. That is what makes one's writing unique.

The problem with working off lists of botanical or architectural dictionaries is while you'd be accurate, nobody else would know what you're talking about unless they are also familiar with botanical or architectural jargon.

IMHO, you should simply describe it with whatever EXISTING vocabulary you have, but feel free to use as many words as you want, by drawing from YOUR life, rather than some jargon dictionary. The idea is to get across not only your description, but the mood you are feeling.

Just as an example, when describing red, most people would use "blood" or "sunset" or "poinsettia"... but Chinese may use the "lucky money" (lai-shi-fon), or "firecrackers" (been-pao) which are red.
posted by kschang at 12:23 AM on March 16, 2015

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