Dictionaries in Great Britain

The first dictionaries in English were glossary words in French, Spanish or Latin, and their definitions in English. The word “dictionary” was invented by an Englishman named John Garland in 1220 – who had written a dictionary dictionary to help with the Latin word “diction”. A first non-alphabetic list of 8000 words in English was Elementarie, created by Richard Mulcaster in 1582.

The first purely English alphabetic dictionary had a table Alphabeticall, written by Robert English teacher Cawdrey in 1604. The only copy survivor is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. This editor, and the many imitators who followed, were considered unreliable and far from definitive. Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, complained again in 1754, 150 years after the publication of Cawdrey, which was “a kind of shame for our country, which now had no level … our language, our neighbors what The Dutch and the Germans call them, word books that dictionaries in the upper sense of this title.

In 1616, John Bullokar describes the dictionary history with his “English Exhibitor”. Glossographia Thomas Blount, published in 1656, contains over 10,000 words with their etymologies or stories. Edward Phillips wrote another dictionary in 1658 entitled “The New World of English Words: Or a General Dictionary” that boldly plagiarized Blount’s work, and both have given [to the necessary clarification] one of the other. This created more interest in dictionaries. John Wilkins’ essay 1668 in Philosophical Language contains a list of 11,500 words with careful distinctions compiled by William Lloyd. Sha Coles published his “Dictionary of English” in 1676.

Only after the Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson (1755) did a reliable English dictionary ever produced. Many people mistakenly believe today that Johnson wrote the first English dictionary: a testament to this legacy. At this stage, dictionaries had evolved to contain textual references for most words, and were arranged alphabetically, rather than by theme (a type of agreement previously popular, which means that all animals can be grouped together , etc. ). Johnson’s masterpiece could be considered the first to bring all these elements together, creating the first “modern” dictionary.

Johnson’s Dictionary remained the standard of English language for over 150 years until the Oxford University Press began writing and publishing the Oxford English Dictionary in short fascicles of 1884. It took nearly 50 years to complete this huge task and finally launched The OED completes twelve volumes in 1928. It maintains the most complete and reliable dictionary in English to date with revisions and updates added by a dedicated team every three months. One of the major contributors to this modern dictionary was an ex-military surgeon, William Chester Minor, a convicted murderer who was confined to an insane asylum for criminals.