Oxted & District History Society - Talk
Oxted & District History Society

Susan Purcell, a lexicographer and author from Shalford, near Guildford, gave a lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘ The History of Dictionaries ‘.

Before Robert Cawdrey’s first English dictionary in 1604 there were only Latin to English glossaries.  His ‘Table Alphabetical’ of 2500 words was intended for ordinary people to understand everyday words.  The Elizabethan era was one of exploration, discovery and new words, necessitating a dictionary.  English literature flourished in the 17th and early 18th Centuries and literary figures considered that the language had peaked.  There were no fixed spellings, no language academies as for Italian and French and rules and meanings needed to be written down.  Samuel Johnson produced his 40,000 word dictionary in 1755 with definitions based on usage.

By 1850 the origins of words were wanted.  In 1852 the Brothers Grimm started work on their 33 volume German dictionary.  They travelled throughout Germany, looking at word usage and dialect words.  Their fairy stories were collected during their travels.  In 1878 work began on the Oxford English Dictionary, not finished until 1928.  A new edition appeared in 1989 and it is now on-line with 1000 new entries a month.  The Oxford and Collins Dictionaries may spell words differently because using different sources.  Chambers has a lot of Scottish and northern words and is renowned for its humour.


The History of Dictionaries a talk by Susan Purcell,