These days, dictionaries are a resource that most of us take for granted. Often used to assist us when we’re writing an assignment or reading an unfamiliar word, dictionaries are a necessity to the English language. Though they’re commonplace now, dictionaries have an unusual history filled with strange factoids. Here are 4 things we bet you didn’t know about dictionaries.
The first-ever dictionary did not give definitions.
The earliest single-language dictionary produced in English was the “Table Alphabeticall.” Produced by a man named Robert Cawdrey in 1604, the Table Alphabeticall contained around 3,000 words, none of which were given definitions, but synonyms. The point of the book, according to Cawdrey, was to introduce complicated words, so readers could better understand scriptures and sermons.
Words are added to the dictionary every year.
At the end of each year, some outlets like to run stories about the funniest words added to the dictionary in that calendar year. But, you might not realize that there aren’t just a few words added to the dictionary each year – there are usually an upward of 1,000! For example, Merriam-Webster added 550 words during the first cycle in April 2020.
A murderer helped contribute to the first Oxford English Dictionary.
Back in the 1800s, people could take advantage of the Oxford English Dictionary’s “mail-in volunteer system,” which encouraged volunteers to send words to the dictionary’s editor. While imprisoned at an insane asylum for accidentally shooting an innocent bystander, William Cheser Minor, a Civil War veteran, became one of the dictionary’s most prolific and valuable contributors.
Sometimes, dictionary editors deliberately add fake words.
Fake words aren’t something you’d expect to find in a dictionary, but sometimes they get added as a way for editors to trap copyright infringers, who will add the word to their listings without realizing it is fake. This occurred in 2005, when the New Oxford American Dictionary published the fake word “esquivalience,” only to find it copied in a popular online dictionary. The word has since been removed.
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