The (First) Dictionary

Most word nerds (or smiths, whatever you may prefer) consider Samuel Johnson to publish the first dictionary. That isn’t true. Johnson didn’t write the first dictionary as they have been around much longer before him. His dictionary was published in 1755 but the word dictionary was invented by another man.

An Englishman named John of Garland  invented the word in 1220. But it wasn’t what we would consider as a dictionary. He had written a book to help you with your Latin diction.

The first dictionaries were dual-language ones to help translators. One such dictionary is called Abecedarium Anglico Latinum of 1552 if you wanted to know the Latin words for what you are trying to describe, or simply want to know English words that have since vanished from the language.

However, the first dictionary, to what we would consider as one, was Cawdrey’s Table Alphebetical of 1604. This contained a list of “hard usual English words” such as concruicate, querimonious, spongeous, and boat. It wasn’t until 1623 that the word dictionary was used in the title, The English Dictionaire, or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words by Henry Cockeram. It was never completed, but was useful to people who didn’t know the definition(s) of words.

After 1623, a slew of dictionaries were hot on the printing presses including Dick Snary (who, sadly, wasn’t popular enough for fame), Samuel Johnson (a scholar of Britian), Nathan Bailey (Universal Etymological Dictionary and sold more than Johnson’s book), Noah Webster (a boring man), and James Murray and William Minor (published the OED!).