Other Free Encyclopedias » 21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia » 21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Diana to Dreadnought


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Dictionary, listing of the words of a language, usually in alphabetical order, with the meaning of each word, as well as information on pronunciation and etymology and examples of usage, with synonyms and antonyms. Foreign language dictionaries generally list only the translations of words without their definitions. Specialized or technical dictionaries define terms used in a particular field. The term “dictionary” is sometimes applied to reference works arranged alphabetically, such as a dictionary of biography or Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The term “dictionary” (Latin: dictionarium, from dicere, “to say”) first appeared c.1225 as the title of a book by the Englishman John Garland, a manuscript of Latin words to be learned by heart, arranged by subject rather than in alphabetical order. Some scholars consider Richard Hu-loet's Abcedarium Anglico-Latinumpro Tyrunculis (English-Latin Lexicon for Young Beginners; 1552) the first English dictionary, since it defined each English word in English before giving the Latin equivalent. Others give the honor to Robert Cawdrey's The Table Alphabeticall of Hard Words (1604), which contained about 2,500 words defined in “plaine English [for] Ladies, Gentlewomen, or any other unskilfull persons.” Nathaniel Bailey's dictionary (1721) gave the etymology of each entry and was among the first works to indicate pronunciation. Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) was the outstanding lexicon of its century and remained the authority until well into the 19th century. Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) quickly became the most authoritative U.S. dictionary. Although Webster died in 1843, many modern dictionaries still bear his name. The first (1890) and second (1934) editions of Webster's International Dictionary were considered authoritative. The third edition (1961) was attacked by some for its “permissive” policy of description, ratherthan prescription,ofusage.

The most comprehensive English-language dictionary project was probably the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, later known as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Hundreds of scholars from Great Britain and the United States worked on this great lexicon, begun in 1858; the last section appeared in 1928 (a supplement appeared in 1933). The OED lists and defines every English word that has appeared from the 7th century to the 20th, with all known variants, as well as etymologies, quotations, usages, and pronunciation.

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