, reference book that lists words in orderusually, for Western languages, alphabeticaland gives their meanings. In addition to its basic function of defining words, a dictionary may provide information about their pronunciation, grammatical forms and functions, etymologies, syntactic peculiarities, variant spellings, and antonyms. A dictionary may also provide quotations illustrating a words use, and these may be dated to show the earliest known uses of the word in specified senses. The word, a collection of words. Althoughencyclopaediasare a different type of reference work, some use the wordin their names (e.g., biographical dictionaries).
Basically, a dictionary lists a set of words with information about them. The list may attempt to be a complete inventory of a language or may be only a small segment of it. A short list, sometimes at the back of a book, is often called aglossary. When a word list is an index to a limited body of writing, with references to each passage, it is called aconcordance. Theoretically, a good dictionary could be compiled by organizing into one list a large number of concordances. A word list that consists of geographic names only is called agazetteer.
The wordlexicondesignates a wordbook, but it also has a special abstract meaning among linguists, referring to the body of separable structural units of which the language is made up. In this sense, a preliterateculturehas a lexicon long before its units are written in a dictionary. Scholars in England sometimes uselexisto designate this lexical element of language.
Thecompilationof a dictionary islexicography; lexicology is a branch of linguistics in which, with the utmost scientific rigour, the theories that lexicographers use in the solution of their problems are developed.
The phrasedictionary ordertakes for granted that alphabetical order will be followed, and yet the alphabetical order has been called atyrannythat makes dictionaries less useful than they might be if compiled in some other order. (So too,dictionary orderbecomes a meaningless term for any language that lacks an alphabet.) The assembling of words into groups related by some principle, as by their meanings, can be done, and such a work is often called athesaurusor synonymy. Such works, however, need an index for ease of reference, and it is unlikely that alphabetical order will be superseded except in specialized works.
The distinction between a dictionary and an encyclopaedia is easy to state but difficult to carry out in a practical way: a dictionary explains words, whereas an encyclopaedia explains things. Because words achieve their usefulness by reference to things, however, it is difficult to construct a dictionary without considerable attention to the objects and abstractions designated.
A monolingual dictionary has both the word list and the explanations in the same language, whereas bilingual or multilingual (polyglot) dictionaries have the explanations in another language or different languages. The worddictionaryis also extended, in a loose sense, to reference books with entries in alphabetical order, such as a dictionary of biography, a dictionary of heraldry, or a dictionary of plastics.
This article, after an account of the development of dictionaries from Classical times to the recent past, treats the kinds of dictionaries and their features and problems. It concludes with a brief section on some of the major dictionaries that are available. Examples for the sections on the types of dictionaries and on their features and problems are drawn primarily from the products of English lexicographers.
In the long perspective of human evolutionary development, dictionaries have been known through only a slight fraction of language history. People at first simply talked without having anyauthoritativebacking from reference books. A short Akkadian word list, from central Mesopotamia, has survived from the 7th centurybce. The Western tradition of dictionary making began among the Greeks, although not until the language had changed so much that explanations and commentaries were needed. After a 1st-century-celexicon by Pamphilus of Alexandria, many lexicons were compiled in Greek, the most important being those of theAtticistsin the 2nd century, that ofHesychius of Alexandriain the 5th century, and that of Photius and theSudain theMiddle Ages. (The Atticists were compilers of lists of words and phrases thought to be in accord with the usage of the Athenians.)
BecauseLatinwas a much-usedlanguageof greatprestigewell into modern times, its monumental dictionaries were important and later influenced English lexicography. In the 1st centurybce,Marcus Terentius Varrowrote thetreatiseDe lingua Latina; theextantbooks of its section of etymology are valuable for their citations from Latin poets. At least fivemedievalScholasticsPapias the Lombard,Alexander NeckamJohannes de Garlandia(John Garland), Hugo of Pisa, and Giovanni Balbi of Genoaturned their attention to dictionaries. The mammoth work ofAmbrogio Calepino, published at Reggio (nowReggio nellEmilia, Italy) in 1502, incorporating several other languages besides Latin, was so popular thatcalepincame to be an ordinary word for a dictionary. A Lancashire will of 1568 contained the provision: I will that Henry Marrecrofte shall have my calepin and my paraphrases. This is an early instance of the tendency that, several centuries later, caused people to say, Look in Johnson or Look in Webster.
Because language problems within a single language do not loom so large to ordinary people as those that arise in the learning of a different language, the interlingual dictionaries developed early and had great importance. The corporation records of Boston, Lincolnshire, have the following entry for the year 1578:
That a dictionary shall be bought for the scholars of the Free School, and the same book to be tied in a chain, and set upon a desk in the school, whereunto any scholar may have access, as occasion shall serve.
The origin of the bilingual lists can be traced to a practice of the early Middle Ages, that of writing interlinear glossesexplanations of difficult wordsin manuscripts. It is but a step for these glosses to be collected together at the back of a manuscript and then for the various listsglossariesto be assembled in another manuscript. Some of these have survived from the 7th and 8th centuriesand in some cases they preserve the earliest recorded forms inEnglish.
The first bilingual glossary to find its way into print was aFrench-Englishvocabulary for the use of travelers, printed in England byWilliam Caxtonwithout a title page, in 1480. The words and expressions appeared in parallel columns on 26 leaves. Next came a Latin-English vocabularyby a noted grammarian, John Stanbridge, published byRichard Pynsonin 1496 and reprinted frequently. But far more substantial in character was an English-Latin vocabulary called thePromptorius puerorum(Storehouse [of words] for Children) brought out by Pynson in 1499. It is better known under its later title ofPromptorium parvulorum sive clericorum(Storehouse for Children or Clerics) commonly attributed to Geoffrey the Grammarian (Galfridus Grammaticus), a Dominican friar of Norfolk, who is thought to have composed it about 1440.
The next important dictionary to be published was an English-French one by John (or Jehan) Palsgrave in 1530,Lesclaircissement de la langue francoise(Elucidation of the French Tongue). Palsgrave was a tutor of French in London, and a letter has survived showing that he arranged with his printer that no copy should be sold without his permission,
lest his profit by teaching the French tongue might be minished by the sale of the same to such persons as, besides him, were disposed to study the said tongue.
A Welsh-English dictionary byWilliam Salesburyin 1547 brought another language into requisition:A Dictionary in English and Welsh. The encouragement ofHenry VIIIwas responsible for an important Latin-English dictionary that appeared in 1538 from the hand ofSir Thomas Elyot.Thomas Cooperenlarged it in subsequent editions and in 1565 brought out a new work based upon itThesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae(Thesaurus of the Roman Tongue and the British). A hundred years laterJohn Aubrey, inBrief Lives, recorded Coopers misfortune while compiling it:
His wifewas irreconcilably angry with him for sitting-up late at night so, compiling his Dictionary.When he had half-done it, she had the opportunity to get into his study, took all his pains out in her lap, and threw it into the fire, and burnt it. Well, for all that, that good man had so great a zeal for the advancement of learning, that he began it again, and went through with it to that perfection that he hath left it to us, a most useful work.
More important still wasRichard Huloets work of 1552,Abecedarium Anglo-Latinum, for it contained a greater number of English words than had before appeared in any similar dictionary. In 1556 appeared the first edition byJohn Withals ofA Short Dictionary for Young Beginners, which gained greater circulation (to judge by the frequency of editions) than any other book of its kind. Many other lexicographers contributed to the development of dictionaries. Certain dictionaries were more ambitious and included a number of languages, such asJohn Barets work of 1573,An Alveary, or Triple Dictionary, in English, Latin, and French. In his preface Baret acknowledged that the work was brought together by his students in the course of their exercises, and the titleAlvearywas tocommemoratetheir beehive of industry. The firstrhyming dictionary, byPeter Levens, was produced in 1570Manipulus Vocabulorum. A Dictionary of English and Latin Words, Set Forth in Such Order, as None Heretofore Hath Been.
The interlingual dictionaries had a far greater stock of English words than were to be found in the earliest all-English dictionaries, and the compilers of the English dictionaries, strangely enough, never took full advantage of these sources. It may be surmised, however, that people in general sometimes consulted the interlingual dictionaries for the English vocabulary. The anonymous author ofThe Art of English Poesy, thought to beGeorge Puttenham, wrote in 1589 concerning the adoption of southern speech as the standard:
herein we are already ruled by th English Dictionaries and other books written by learned men, and therefore is needeth none other direction in that behalf.
The mainstream of English lexicography is the word list explained in English. The first known English-English glossary grew out of the desire of the supporters of the Reformation that even the most humble Englishman should be able to understand the Scriptures.William Tyndale, when he printed the Pentateuch on the Continent in 1530, included a table expounding certain words. The following entries (quoted here with unmodernized spellings) are typical:
, is soche a flappe as thou seist in the brest or a cope.
, to apoynte a thinge to holy uses.
wasa fattenesse that osed out of the erth lykeunto tarre / And thou mayst call it cement / if thou wilt.
, an house made tentwise, or as a pauelion.
/ a dewymiste / as the smoke of a sethynge pott.
Spellingreformers long had a deep interest in producing English dictionaries. In 1569 one such reformer,John Hart, lamented the greatness of the disorders and confusions of spelling. But a few years later the phoneticianWilliam Bullokar promised to produce such a work and stated, A dictionary and grammar may stay our speech in a perfect use for ever.
Schoolmasters also had a strong interest in the development of dictionaries. In 1582Richard Mulcaster, of the Merchant Taylors school and later of St. Pauls, expressed the wish that some learned and laborious man would gather all the words which we use in our English tongue, and in his book commonly referred to asThe Elementaryhe listed about 8,000 words, without definitions, in a section called The General Table. Another schoolmaster,Edmund Coote, of Bury St. Edmunds, in 1596 brought outThe English Schoolmaster, Teaching All His Scholars of What Age Soever the Most Easy Short & Perfect Order of Distinct Reading & True Writing Our English Tongue, with a table that consisted of about 1,400 words, sorted out by different typefaces on the basis of etymology. This is important, because what is known as the first English dictionary, eight years later, was merely anadaptationand enlargement of Cootes table.
In 1604 at London appeared the first purely English dictionary to be issued as a separate work, titledA Table Alphabetical, Containing and Teaching the True Writing and Understanding of Hard Usual English Words, Borrowed from the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or French &c., byRobert Cawdrey, who had been a schoolmaster at Oakham, Rutland, about 1580 and in 1604 was living at Coventry. He had the collaboration of his son Thomas, a schoolmaster in London. This work contained about 3,000 words but was so dependent upon three sources that it can rightly be called aplagiarism. The basic outline was taken over from Cootes work of 1596, with 87 percent of his word list adopted. Further material was taken from the Latin-English dictionary by Thomas Thomas,Dictionarium linguae Latinae et Anglicanae(1588). But the third source is most remarkable. In 1599 a Dutchman known only asA.M. translated from Latin into English a famous medical work by Oswald Gabelkhouer,The Boock of Physicke, published at Dort, in the Netherlands. As he had been away from England for many years and had forgotten much of his English, A.M. sometimes merely put English endings on Latin words. When friends told him that Englishmen would not understand them, he compiled a list of them, explained by a simpler synonym, and put it at the end of the book. Samples are:
Puluerisated, reade beaten;Frigifye, reade coole;Madefye, reade dipp;Calefye, reade heat;Circumligate, reade binde;Ebulliated, read boyled.
Thus, the fumblings of a Dutchman who knew little English (in fact, his errata) were poured into Cawdreys word list. But other editions of Cawdrey were called fora second in 1609, a third in 1613, and a fourth in 1617.
The next dictionary, byJohn Bullokar,An English Expositor, is first heard of on May 25, 1610, when it was entered in the Stationers Register (which established the printers right to it), but it was not printed until six years later. Bullokar introduced many archaisms, marked with a star (only used of some ancient writers, and now grown out of use), such asaye,eld,enewed,fremd,gab, andglee. The work had 14 editions, the last as late as 1731.
Still in the tradition of hard words was the next work, in 1623, byHenry Cockeram, the first to have the worddictionaryin its title:The English Dictionary; or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words. It added many words that have never appeared anywhere elseadpugne,adstupiate,bulbitate,catillate,fraxate,nixious,prodigity,vitulate, and so on. Much fuller than its predecessors wasThomas Blounts work of 1656,Glossographia; or, A Dictionary Interpreting All Such Hard WordsAs Are Now Used in Our Refined English Tongue. He made an important forward step in lexicographical method by collecting words from his own reading that had given him trouble, and he often cited the source. Much of Blounts material was appropriated two years later by Edward Phillips, a nephew of the poetJohn Milton, for a work calledThe New World of English Words, and Blountcastigatedhim bitterly.
Thus far, the English lexicographers had all been men who made dictionaries in their leisure time or as an avocation, but in 1702 appeared a work by the first professional lexicographer,John Kersey the Younger. This work,A New English Dictionary, incorporated much from the tradition of spelling books and discarded most of the fantastic words that hadbeguiledearlier lexicographers. As a result, it served the reasonable needs of ordinary users of the language. Kersey later produced some bigger works, but all these were superseded in the 1720s whenNathan Bailey, a schoolmaster in Stepney, issued several innovative works. In 1721 he producedAn Universal Etymological English Dictionary, which for the rest of the century was more popular even than Samuel Johnsons. A supplement in 1727 was the first dictionary to mark accents for pronunciation. Baileys imposingDictionarium Britannicumof 1730 was used by Johnson as a repository during the compilation of the monumental dictionary of 1755.
Many literary men felt the inadequacy of English dictionaries, particularly in view of the continental examples. TheCrusca Academy, of Florence, founded in 1582, brought out itsVocabolarioat Venice in 1612, filled withcopiousquotations fromItalianliterature. TheFrench Academyproduced its dictionary in 1694, but two other French dictionaries were actually more scholarlythat of Csar-Pierre Richelet in 1680 and that ofAntoine Furetirein 1690. InSpaintheRoyal Spanish Academy, founded in 1713, produced itsDiccionario de la lengua Castellana(172639) in six thick volumes. The foundation work ofGermanlexicography, by Johann Leonhard Frisch,Teutsch-Lateinisches Wörterbuch, in 1741, freely incorporated quotations in German. TheRussianAcademy of Arts (St. Petersburg) published the first edition of its dictionary somewhat later, from 1789 to 1794. Both the French and the Russian academies arranged the first editions of their dictionaries in etymological order but changed to alphabetical order in the second editions.
In England, in 1707, the antiquary Humphrey Wanley set down in a list of good books wanted, which he hoped the Society of Antiquaries would undertake: Adictionaryfor fixing the English language, as the French and Italian. A number of noted authors made plans to fulfill this aim (Joseph AddisonAlexander Pope, and others), but it remained for a promising poet and critic,Samuel Johnson, to bring such a project to fulfillment. Five leading booksellers of London banded together to support his undertaking, and a contract was signed on June 18, 1746. Next year JohnsonsPlanwas printed, a prospectus of 34 pages, consisting of a discussion of language that can still be read as a masterpiece in its judicious consideration of linguistic problems.
With the aid of six amanuenses to copy quotations, Johnson read widely in the literature up to his time and gathered the central word-stock of the English language. He included about 43,500 words (a few more than the number in Bailey), but they were much better selected and represented the keen judgment of a man of letters. He was sympathetic to the desire of that age to fix the language, but he realized as he went ahead that language is the work of man, of a being from whom permanence and stability cannot be derived. At most, he felt that he could curb the lust for innovation.
The chief glory of Johnsons dictionary was its 118,000 illustrative quotations. No doubt some of these were included for their beauty, but mostly they served as the basis for his sensediscriminations. No previous lexicographer had thetemerityto divide the verbtake, transitive, into 113 senses and the intransitive into 21 more. The definitions often have a quaint ring to modern readers because the science of the age was either not well developed or was not available to him. But mostly the definitions show a sturdy common sense, except when Johnson used long words sportively. His etymologies reflect the state ofphilologyin his age. Usually they were an improvement on those of his predecessors, because he had as a guide theEtymologicum AnglicanumofFranciscus Junius the Younger, as edited by Edward Lye, which became available in 1743 and which provided guidance for the important Germanic element of the language.
(1755). The definition of Oats is often cited as evidence of Johnsons prejudice against Scots.
Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago
Four editions of theDictionarywere issued during Johnsons lifetime; in particular the fourth, in 1773, received much personal care in revision. TheDictionaryretained its supremacy for many decades and received lavish, although not universal, praise; some would-be rivals were bitter incriticism. A widely heralded work of the 1780s and 1790s was the projected dictionary ofHerbert Croft, in a manuscript of 200 quarto volumes, that was to be calledThe Oxford English Dictionary. Croft was, however, unable to get it into print.
The practice of marking word stress was taken over from the spelling books by Bailey in hisDictionaryof 1727, but a full-fledgedpronouncingdictionary was not produced until 1757, by James Buchanan; his was followed by those of William Kenrick (1773), William Perry (1775),Thomas Sheridan(1780), and John Walker (1791), whose decisions were regarded as authoritative, especially in theUnited States.
The attention to dictionaries was thoroughly established in American schools in the 18th century.Benjamin Franklin, in 1751, in his pamphlet Idea of the English School, said, Each boy should have an English dictionary to help him over difficulties. The master of an Englishgrammar schoolin New York in 1771, Hugh Hughes, announced: Every one of this Class will have Johnsons Dictionary in Octavo. These were imported from England, because the earliest dictionary printed in theUnited Stateswas in 1788, whenIsaiah Thomasof Worcester, Massachusetts, issued an edition of PerrysRoyal Standard English Dictionary. The first dictionary compiled in America wasA School Dictionaryby Samuel Johnson, Jr. (not a pen name), printed in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1798. Another, byCaleb Alexander, was calledThe Columbian Dictionary of the English Language(1800) and on the title page claimed that many new words, peculiar to the United States, were inserted. It received abuse from critics who were not yet ready for the inclusion of American words.
In spite of such attitudes,Noah Webster, already well known for his spelling books and political essays, embarked on a program of compiling three dictionaries of different sizes that included Americanisms. In his announcement on June 4, 1800, he titled the largest oneA Dictionary of the American Language. He brought out his small dictionary for schools, theCompendious, in 1806 but then engaged in a long course of research into the relation of languages, in order to strengthen his etymologies. At last, in 1828, at age 70, he published his masterwork, in two thick volumes, with the titleAn American Dictionary of the English Language. His change of title reflects his growingconservatismand his recognition of the fundamental unity of the English language. His selection of the word list and his well-phrased definitions made his work superior to previous works, although he did not give illustrative quotations but merely cited the names of authors. The dictionarys worth was recognized, although Webster himself was always at the centre of a whirlpool of controversy.
It was Websters misfortune to be superseded in hisphilologyin the very decade that his masterpiece came out. He had spent many years in compiling a laborious Synopsis of 20 languages, but he lacked an awareness of the systematic relationships in theIndo-European family of languages. Germanic scholars such asFranz BoppandRasmus Raskhad developed a rigorous science of comparative philology, and a new era of dictionary making was called for. Even as early as 1812, Franz Passow had published an essay in which he set forth the canons of a new lexicography, stressing the importance of the use of quotations arranged chronologically in order to exhibit the history of each word. TheBrothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, developed these theories in their preparations for theDeutsches Wörterbuchin 1838. The first part of it was printed in 1852, but the end was not reached until more than a century later, in 1960. French scholarship was worthily represented byMaximilien-Paul-mile Littr, who began working on hisDictionnaire de la langue françaisein 1844, but, with interruptions of theRevolutions of 1848and his philosophical studies, he did not complete it until 1873.
Among British scholars the historical outlook took an important step forward in 1808 in the work ofJohn Jamieson on the language ofScotland. Because he did not need to consider the classical purity of the language, he included quotations of humble origin; in hisEtymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, his use of mean sources marked a turning point in the history of lexicography. Even as late as 1835 the criticRichard Garnettsaid that the only good English dictionary we possess is Dr. Jamiesons Scottish one. Another collector, James Jermyn, showed by his publications between 1815 and 1848 that he had the largest body of quotations assembled before that ofThe Oxford English Dictionary.Charles Richardson was also an industrious collector, presenting his dictionary, from 1818 on, distributed alphabetically throughout theEncyclopaedia Metropolitana(vol. 14 to 25) and then reissued as a separate work in 183537. Richardson was adiscipleof the benightedJohn Horne Tooke, whose 18th-century theories long held back the development of philology in England. RichardsonexcoriatedNoah Webster for ignoring the learned elders of lexicography such as John Minsheu (whoseGuide into the Tonguesappeared in 1617),Gerhard Johannes Vossius(who published hisEtymologicum linguae Latinaein 1662), and Franciscus Junius (Etymologicum Anglicanum, written before 1677). Richardson did collect a rich body of illustrative quotations, sometimes letting them show the meaning without adefinition, but his work was largely a monument of misguided industry that met with the neglect it deserved.
Scholars more and more felt the need for a full historical dictionary that would display the English language in accordance with the most rigorous scientific principles of lexicography. ThePhilological Society, founded in 1842, established an Unregistered Words Committee, but, upon hearing two papers by Richard Chenevix Trench in 1857On Some Deficiencies in Our English Dictionariesthe society changed its plan to the making ofA New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. Forward steps were taken under two editors, Herbert Coleridge andFrederick James Furnivall, until, in 1879,James Augustus Henry Murray, a Scot known for his brilliance in philology, was engaged as editor. A small army of voluntary readers were inspirited to contribute quotation slips, which reached the number of 5,000,000 in 1898, and no doubt 1,000,000 were added after that. Only 1,827,306 of them were used in print. The copy started going to the printer in 1882; Part I was finished in 1884. Later, three other editors were added, each editing independently with his own staffHenry Bradley, from the north of England, in 1888,William Alexander Craigie, another Scot, in 1901, and Charles Talbut Onions, the only Southerner, in 1914. So painstaking was the work that it was not finished until 1928, in more than 15,500 pages with three long columns each. An extraordinary high standard was maintained throughout. The work was reprinted, with a supplement, in 12 volumes in 1933 with the titleThe Oxford English Dictionary, and as theOEDit has been known ever since. In 1989 a second edition, known as theOED2, was published in 20 volumes.
In the United States, lexicographical activity has been unceasing since 1828. In the middle years of the 19th century, a war of the dictionaries was carried on between the supporters of Webster and those of his rival,Joseph Emerson Worcester. To a large extent this was a competition between publishers who wished to preempt the market in the lower schools, but literary people took sides on the basis of other issues. In particular, thecontentiousWebster had gained a reputation as a reformer of spelling and a champion of Americaninnovationswhile the quiet Worcester followed traditions.
In 1846 Worcester brought out an important new work,A Universal and Critical Dictionary of the English Language, which included many neologisms of the time, and in the next year Websters son-in-law, Chauncey Allen Goodrich, edited an improvedAmerican Dictionaryof the deceased Webster. In this edition the Webster interests were taken over by an aggressive publishing firm, theG. & C. MerriamCo. (SeeMerriam-Webster dictionary.) Their agents were very active in the war of the dictionaries and sometimes secured an order, by decree of a state legislature, for their book to be placed in every schoolhouse of the state. Worcesters climactic edition of 1860,A Dictionary of the English Language, gave him the edge in the war, and the poet and criticJames Russell Lowelldeclared: From this long conflict Dr. Worcester has unquestionably come off victorious. The Merriams, however, brought out their answer in 1864, popularly called the unabridged, with etymologies supplied by a famous German scholar,Karl AugustFriedrich Mahn. Thereafter, the Worcester series received no major reediting, and its faltering publishers allowed it to pass into history.
One of the best English dictionaries ever compiled was issued in 24 parts from 1889 to 1891 asThe Century Dictionary, edited byWilliam Dwight Whitney. It contained much encyclopaedic material but bears comparison even with theOED.Isaac Kauffman Funk, in 1893, brought outA Standard Dictionary of the English Language, its chiefinnovationbeing the giving of definitions in the order of their importance, not the historical order.
Thus, at the turn of the new century, the United States had four reputable dictionariesWebsters, Worcesters (already becoming moribund), theCentury, and FunksStandard(see