How to Say What Stuff Looks Like


100 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-919951-13-9
DDC 808'.0666





Reviewed by Sandy Campbell

Sandy Campbell is a reference librarian in the Science and Technology Library at the University of Alberta.


This is one of those rare technical books that are fun to browse. It is
a pictorial dictionary of the shapes the author was required to describe
during his 25 years as a patent agent.

The book is organized visually, by kinds of shapes; a descriptive-term
index broadens its utility. Whether you have a shape and need to know
what it is called, or you have a shape name and need to know what it
looks like, this resource will have the answer. Because the use of
precise language is important in intellectual property issues, the
dictionary supplies collections of near-synonyms and clarifications not
easily found elsewhere (e.g., Rieder offers 12 words that mean
“boat” or “boat-shaped” and distinguishes “spiral”
[two-dimensional] from “helix” [three-dimensional]).

In spite of the book’s comprehensiveness, there are occasional
omissions, both in the shapes shown and in the indexing. For example,
Rieder shows 14 different kinds of crosses, but omits the distinctively
shaped Celtic cross; he also shows a honeycomb-like shape, which is
described as “cell-like,” but fails to index it under that commonly
used term. However, the author does invite corrections and additions.

Aside from being a useful reference for librarians, people working with
patents and trademarks, engineers, and writers, the dictionary is also
entertaining. Many of the drawings are whimsical, and the selection of
terms is amusing. For my part, as a searcher of the patent literature, I
keep hoping that someone will ask me to search for something
turtle-shaped, so that I can knowingly say, “That’s testudinate.”
Highly recommended.


Rieder, Thomas., “How to Say What Stuff Looks Like,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 18, 2024,