I've often seen the word "reference" used to mean "documentation", "manual", etc.; for examples [1]. However, a dictionary definition of this word doesn't seem to mention this meaning [2].

Is that a correct use of the word? What am I missing?

My guess is that it's usually "reference manual", not just "reference". So maybe it means "the official manual", i.e. "there might be other descriptions of the subject, but this is the one you should refer to".

[1] http://dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.7/en/ [2] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/reference


2 Answers 2


It is a correct use of the word. I think the issue is that reference is a pretty common word, and many other definitions of it are more commonly used — so a short list of top definitions is likely to leave it out. It's also barely different from the other definitions and clearly makes sense as a slight extension of them.

It does appear in other dictionaries:

a work (as a dictionary or encyclopedia) containing useful facts or information


A work frequently used as a source


a source of information or facts

One more:

A reference work.


The usage is:

You can look that up in the Photoshop reference [manual].

Words are implied all the time. In this case, either “manual” or “guide” or “materials” is implied.

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