A Dictionary is a Book of Alphabetically listed words in a language, with definitions, pronunciation, etymologies, and other information.


In the Ancient Classical World and the Middle Ages, there were often made collections of ‘hard words ‘ and foreign words with their meanings. These are termed Glossaries or collections of glosses( a gloss, from Latin of the Greek gloss ‘rare word needing special explanations’). Until the Renaissance, such glossaries were only selected groups of explanations and in no sense aimed at the completeness, we associate with a dictionary. The Renaissance brought the need for Latin and Greek dictionaries and the impulse given by the new attitude caused the thoughts of Scholars to turn also to the improvement and clarification of the vernacular. So it was that crude and incomplete dictionaries began to appear. Such in part was Thomas Cooper’s Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae of 1565; In 1604 Robert Cawdrey produced a slim volume entitled A Table of Alphabetical English Wordes, and in 1658 Edward Phillips published his New World of English Words , in which, he tells us,’ the interpretations of all the foreign words derived from foreign languages’.


The first two stages of the history of Dictionaries, then, were the glossary first, and secondly, the merely selective dictionary which dealt only with ‘hard words ‘ or those of foreign derivation. The third step was the addition of etymologies to the meanings of words: to know the history of a word before it entered the language of value for the understanding of its exact shade of meaning. Stephen Skinner in 1667 with his Etymologicon Linguae Anglicanae, and the Dutch scholar Francis Junius with his Etymologicon Anglicanum in 1667, were the pioneers in providing etymological dictionaries for English though both wrote in the then usual Latin.


The first dictionary in anything like the proper sense of the word appeared in 1708, this was John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo Britannicum or A General English Dictionary. This embodies a fourth development, namely the attempt to set out the whole of the literary language. It was followed in 1730 by a much scholarly work, Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum or A More Compleat Universal English Dictionary, which included all the advances hitherto made in the science of lexicography or Dictionary making, but with greater fulness. The Greatest landmark in the development of Lexicography was Dr.Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, completed in 1755. His dictionary has an effective illustration with quotations, and it is scholarly and clear. It became the standard for English Spelling. In 1836, Charles Richardson introduced his A New Dictionary of the English language(1836). In 1928, The Claredon Press of Oxford published ” A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles “. In America, Noah Webster was the pioneer with his Compendious English Dictionary of 1806. In 1828, American Dictionary formed a base for Webster’s International Dictionary, which is the Universal working tool in America after successive revisions. The Century Dictionary(1889-91) is the great American example of a scholarly compendious English dictionary, in six volumes which is largely an encyclopedia as well.

Published by