How do you look for words that are related to a certain culture? For example, when I want to look for all items that existed during Ancient Rome, how do I do this as efficiently as possible. Is there any book you would recommend, what about items during the Meiji Era? Clothes such as chiton and palla are hardly ever referenced in thesauruses, and when you use encyclopedia they may only cover items during Antiquity and in certain regions. Is there a good online resource where you can find all items and not just related ones associated with a certain region and time?

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    Imagine you are living in the year 2050 and you want a list of "all items that existed" in your country in 2020. Do you really believe that someone could write that list? May 12, 2020 at 19:59

3 Answers 3


Specialist dictionaries and reference works do exist for certain cultures, topics, and areas. For instance,

The Yorkshire Slang Dictionary

Historical Dictionary of Somalia

or the selection of books written or edited by George Thomas Kurian

Searching within international deposit libraries' catalogues such as the British Library's can return interesting results. Simply inputting 'Japan, research', I found A Guide to Reference Books for Japanese Studies, for instance.

No single source will be ideal - and I would be surprised if you found the word 'chiton' or 'palla' in Thornton Wilder's works set in the Ancient world (e.g. The Woman of Andros or The Ides of March). Using specialist vocabulary has an advantage in terms of accuracy, but can 'break the spell' for a reader unfamiliar with the terms you're using. A glossary can overcome this, but whether it is really worth it is something a writer must decide on a case by case basis.


As far as I can tell, there isn't any book or website with a complete list of what you're looking for. You might have to make your own list using the information provided by various places. Here are a few links you might find useful:

http://www.romanaqueducts.info/technicalintro/surveyingtools.htm This is about the tools used in Ancient Rome.

https://www.historyhit.com/what-did-the-romans-eat-food-and-drink-in-ancient-times/ This is about their food.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_technology This is a Wikipedia page on Roman technology.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_ancient_Rome The culture of Ancient Rome.

https://relatedwords.org/relatedto/ancient%20rome This link might be especially useful. It lists terms and phrases related to or used in Ancient Rome.

I would also suggest reading some books written about Ancient Rome. Reading those will definitely give you the information you need, because of the language and terms used.

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! I think OP is asking about how to do this for any given culture, and the Roman Empire was just an example, but the crux of your answer - that there is no single repository for this, and OP will have to do his own research - will probably be the same for any other culture.
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 19, 2020 at 11:06

One lazy approach is to let some other writer do your research for you, and then double check it yourself, to be safe!

By that I mean, find a historical novel for that culture and copy out words that seem particular to that culture. Then check them and be sure the author really did do the research, and didn't just make them up (unless you trust the writer!).

An example from The Nutmeg of Consolation (Patrick O'Brian) that's set in the Napoleonic Wars on British ships. Maturin is talking about the coca leaf, which he likes to chew:

These leaves, which he had first encountered in South America, were his present, purely personal, catholicon...

I'd never heard that word before, but Merriam-Webster says:

Definition of catholicon : CURE-ALL, PANACEA

There are other definitions relating to Catholic icons, but this one seems to fit.

This advice is for specific cultures. I really doubt you'll find any book series with ALL cultures.

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