Book Review: In Which Sci Reads the Dictionary (Cambell's Psychiatric Dictionary, 9th Edition)

Originally posted by Scicurious
On April 8, 2009, at 12:02 AM

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:

psychiatric dictionary.pngI'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:

: 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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I LOVE that you did a cheating book review, and that you enriched our vocabularies with some awesome geeky words.

Have you ever seen "Instant Beauty Pageant?" where they grab people from the mall, have them buy a swimsuit, an evening gown and then put on a pageant where they need to display a talent? I joked with my daughter that if I ever got pegged for one of those I would go to a bookstore, buy a medical dictionary and read it out loud! I would take this one, too.

And cuddling books on the way home from the bookstore...sigh...a simple pleasure!

Thanks for this and for sharing your enthusiasm, too!

I read the title and then the whole paragraph up until the review started and was absolutely sure that you were reviewing a Psychic Dictionary, which I expected to be wildly entertaining. Then I started in on the review and it was definitely entertaining, but in an entirely different and more educational direction than I'd expected.

So basically I think you should review a Psychic Dictionary as well, and do a compare/contrast between the two.

Rev Matt: got a psychic dictionary? Send it on over, and I will read it. The review probably won't be pretty.

Sciencegoddess: SCI'S talent would be blogging. She'd all whip out her laptop on stage and lie there all sexy while she types furiously.