Here are some websites that I use from time to time. I use Google a lot, of course, but these are very handy if you're looking for the exact word or a turn of phrase or particular fact. They are a little recherché, but that is also their charm.
- Lexical Freenet: This is useful for finding links between words, synonyms and things like that.
- Word Spy: An excellent site for neologisms and cool phrases. Think of this as a first draft of the next Oxford English Dictionary.
- Getty Vocabularies: A collection of specialised dictionaries, such as an art and architecture thesaurus and place names. They are really well presented and useful for all kinds of things, including name generation.
- Rhetoric sites, including Silva Rhetoricae and A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices, are interesting to browse and can provide neat sentence structures if you're stuck for a neat way of saying something difficult.
- OneLook Reverse Dictionary: A handy dictionary where you provide the definition and it supplies the word you are looking for.
- Urban Dictionary and Rap Dictionary: a source of fresh words and phrases. Also demystification for me (see below).
It always surprises people that I am a big rap fan but being a sad white boy I have to translate a lot of the lyrics as if they were written in Latin. Part of the reason I like it is that rappers are as playful and imaginative with words today as Shakespeare was in his time. I have a hunch that in four hundred years, if we make it, school children will be forced to learn Wu Tang Clan lyrics in school. Up on the 36 chambers!
Lastly, there's the ever-delightful Overheard in New York site. There's something frank and inventive about the way New Yorkers use language that I admire. I submitted my own story to the site. On the way out of the planetarium I overheard a little girl complaining to her dad while they waited in line to go in: "I don't like the big bang. It's really loud."