Monday, February 20, 2017

A Dictionary of the English Language

Samuel Johnson - A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) direct link (8th edition, volume 1) direct link (8th edition, volume 2)
Open Library main page (with links to various editions)

Digital edition (see below)

This is the third of The Guardian's Top 10 Dictionaries.  Johnson's dictionary wasn't just a landmark reference work but was also so readable that selections have been reprinted many times.  (A Penguin may be the easiest to find - it's still in print.  I have one from the 70s that was half of a two-volume selected works.)  Johnson spent years on it (while also finding the time to edit a major edition of Shakespeare) and pulled together various approaches to create a dictionary that was thorough and accurate though not always disinterested.  (He attacked the Scots in one entry.)

I gave links to the 8th edition purely because that scan seemed most readable though I didn't look at all.  The Open Library link lists many others.

The digital edition link above goes to a very nice site with much background information and links.  Part of that project is to transcribe the entire first edition (at 9% as of this writing).  It also has a very clean scan of the first edition but that's somewhat hard to find - go to Page View and then you can choose from there.

There are several books about the dictionary though the one that most interests me is Jack Lynch & Anne McDermott's Anniversary Essays on Johnson's Dictionary (2005), mainly because it's not narrative but focuses on specific topics such as the "mythology" of the dictionary, use of references, its typography, legal issues, political implications and most intriguingly "hidden quarto editions".

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew

B.E. - A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (1699) direct link
Open Library main page

The second book on The Guardian's Top 10 list of dictionaries is this early one devoted to what we would now call underworld slang. "Canting" was first recorded in the early 17th century with this meaning and was used so by Jonson but has dropped out of currency.  There's a thorough review of the 1899 reprint of this book in The Academy and Literature which traces the term "cant", brings up the question of the book's date (I just used The Guardian's date though a year either way are referenced just as frequently), discusses antecedents and delves into other issues before, like all of us, going through samples.

Dunaker - a Cow-stealer
Execution-day - Washing-day; also that on which Malefactors Die
Lilly-white - a Chimney-sweeper
Loon-flatt - a Thirteen Pence half Penny
Nocky - a silly, dull Fellow
Pharoah - very Strong Mault-Drink
Plad - Scotch striped Stuff
Word-pecker - one that play's with Words [sic on "play's"]

And who was the compiler B.E.?  Everybody says nobody knows.  There's apparently very thorough material on this book in Julie Coleman's A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries but I haven't been able to check that.  Maybe there's more information on the identity there but it sounds like we still don't know.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Table Alphabeticall

Richard Cawdrey - A Table Alphabeticall (1604)

University of Toronto link

The Guardian's always interesting Top 10 books lists recently focused on Top 10 Dictionaries.  Most are public domain so they seemed worth posting, especially because the article's links are not consistent and there's little author information.  The next few posts will cover most of these.

A Table Alphabeticall is considered the first English dictionary though today we would think of it more a guide to difficult or tricky words rather than a true dictionary. Nevertheless most of the words are still current today and in basically the same meaning.  The book was apparently popular and quickly went through four editions (1604, 1609, 1613, 1617).  Its alphabetical order also seems to have been an innovation.  In 1623 Henry Cockeram published The English Dictionarie (the first to use the actual word) which clearly stated that he selected words from Cawdrey's book.

As far as I can tell there are no digital copies but the University of Toronto has a webpage with the entire work.  The book was reprinted in 1970 by Da Capo and in 2015 by the Bodleian, the latter with an introduction by John Simpson.

Richard Cawdrey (1537/38 to 1604 or later) was a British rector who had conflicts with the church and returned to teaching later in life.  There seems to be little information about his life, much of it drawn from remarks in his work.  I'd guess the Simpson introduction mentioned above has the most detail but that reprint isn't in my library so I haven't read it.

There's a study of A Table Alphabeticall by Kusujiro Miyoshi in Adventuring in Dictionaries.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Metropolitan Museum of Art open access images

Policy release
Main page

The Met has put images of art works online for a while now but they've just announced that public domain works are now freely available for any use.  I've downloaded many over the past couple of years as desktop backgrounds but now they're not restricted to private use.  (And I like that this policy page is illustrated with one of my favorite paintings, Bruegel the Elder's The Harvesters.)

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (1921-2011)

home page with links (the download button is for free pdfs of each volume)

This may be the book with the most limited interest I've posted but couldn't resist.  The 21 volumes of this monumental dictionary took 90 years to compile - the story was covered by the BBC.  Every volume is available as a free download in case you want to try your hand at translating Gilgamesh or the seemingly endless Babylonian charm and spell texts.  (The "Assyrian" of the title is really what's now called Akkadian as explained in the volume 1 introduction.)  The authors followed the OED and included detailed examples of usage though in brief excerpts that can seem almost like a modernist poem, a rough shadow of Pound's Cantos perhaps.

     I could not be in Babylon to take the loyalty oath
         my soldiers drove the king of Mitanni from Nuhassi
     PN took away three "hand" oxen
         I dispatched the ten talents of copper on my own

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Constantijn Huygens  - Koren-bloemen (1672) direct link
Open Library main page

A recent piece in the New York Times about an experimental book designer had her choose this as one of her favorite books.  "Every typographic experiment — what you think now is new — has already been done."  Which sounds fantastic - a kind of Tristram Shandy of book design.  The actual book, though, doesn't live up to that.  Yes, there are parallel columns and marginal text and footnotes and so on but not in profusion or any particularly imaginative way.  And 1672 seems pretty late to claim originality for any of this (though maybe I'm wrong about that).

Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) was a Dutch diplomat, poet and composer, probably better known now as the father of scientist Christiaan Huygens (the Huygens Principle, the centripetal force formula and many many others).  Very little of the elder Huygens' work has been translated into English (his early poetry was apparently French and Latin but when working in England he wrote in Dutch).  He wrote an early description of a Rembrandt painting and was close friends with Descartes.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Explanatory Notes of a Pack of Cavalier Playing Cards

Edmund Goldsmid - Explanatory Notes of a Pack of Cavalier Playing Cards (1886) direct link 
Open Library main page

Playing cards would not have occurred to me as a vehicle for political satire but this pamphlet describes one instance.  The reproduced cards are an attack--or at least slightly oh so slightly barbed remarks--on Cromwell and the Commonwealth, each with an illustration and caption.  The pamphlet explains the references, many being quite obscure so far after the events.  The main failing is that it has no background on the cards - when were they created and by whom?  Were there others like this?  Were they widely used?  Though the author identifies the cards as satire but I'd consider them more almost-straightforward political commentary.  There's little if any exaggeration to them and not much attempt at humor.  Or maybe I'm more accustomed to written satire and don't quite get this.

Edmund Goldsmid (1849-1890?) was a writer and bibliographer, probably Scottish.  His numerous works include Quaint Gleanings from Ancient Poetry, Some Political Satires of the Seventeenth Century, The Political Songs of England and others.  He edited an astonishing number of reprints of old texts, so many in fact that different bibliographies list different works.  Some of the more interesting sounding editorial work includes History of the Devils of Loudun, Maistre's Journey Around My Room, The Massacre of GlencoeThe Secret Correspondence of Sir Robert Cecil with James VI. King of Scotland, and a major edition of Hakluyt's Principal Navigations.

And how could I omit the reprinted Lucina sine concubitu: a treatise humbly addressed to the Royal Society, in which it is proved, by most incontestable evidence, drawn from reason and practice, that a woman may conceive and be brought to bed, without any commerce with man?  This was actually a hoax written by a John Hill in the 18th century when rejected by the Royal Society for membership (at least according to a library record).

For such a prolific writer I can find little information about him - this isn't the first time I wish author notes weren't such a recent development.  I'm not even entirely sure about his dates.  1849 comes up in several sources.  1890 appears in only one but it seems to make him quite young for such a long list of works though as far as I can find none are dated after that.  He was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an FSA which isn't a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries according to a helpful library assistant there who suggested maybe it means Society of Arts.  (I never heard back from the RHS but that was a long shot.)