English Dictionaries

Robert Cawdrey, A Table Alphabetical (1604)

to the reader:

BY this Table (right Honourable & Worshipfull) strangers that blame our tongue of difficultie, and vncertaintie may heereby plainly see, & better vnderstand those things, which they haue thought hard. Heerby also the true Orthography, that is, the true writing of many hard English words, borrowed from the Greeke, Latine & French, and how to know one from the other, with the interpretation thereof by plaine English words, may be learned and knowne. And children heerby may be prepared for the vnderstanding of a great number of Latine words: which also will bring much delight & iudgement to others, by the vse of this little worke. Which worke, long ago for the most part, was gathered by me, but lately augmented by my sonne Thomas, who now is Schoolemaister in London.

SVch as by their place and calling, (but especially Preachers) as haue occasion to speak publiquely before the ignorant people, are to bee admoni-
shed, that they neuer affect any strange ynckhorne termes, but labour to speake so as is commonly receiued, and so as the most ignorant may well vnderstand them: neyther seeking to be ouer fine or curious, nor yet liuing ouer carelesse, vsing their speech, as most men doe, & ordering their wits, as the fewest haue done. Some men seek so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mothers language, so that if some of their mothers were aliue, they were not able to tell, or vnderstand what they say, and yet these fine English Clearks, will say they speak in their mother tongue; but one might well charge them, for counterfeyting the Kings English. Also, some far iournied gentlemen, at their returne home, like as they loue to go in forraine apparrell, so they will pouder their talke with ouer-sea language. He that commeth lately out of France, will talk French English, and neuer blush at the matter.


[fr] ABandon, cast away, or yeelde vp, to
leaue or forsake.
Abash, blush.
abba, father.
[fr] abbesse, abbatesse, Mistris of a Nunne-
rie, comforters of others.
[fr] abbettors, counsellors.
aberration, a going a stray, or wande-
abbreuiat, (* synonyms *) to shorten, or make
[fr] abbridge, short. (* synonyms end *)
[fr] abbut, to lie vnto, or border vpon, as one
lands end meets with another.
abecedarie, the order of the Letters, or hee
that vseth them.
aberration, a going astray, or wandering.
[fr] abet, to maintaine.


combustible, easily burnt
combustion, burning or consuming with
comedie, (k) stage play,
comicall, handled merily like a comedie
commemoration, rehearsing or remem-
[fr] commencement, a beginning or entrance
comet, (g) a blasing starre
comentarie, exposition of any thing
commerce, fellowship, entercourse of mer-
commination, threatning, or menacing,
commiseration, pittie
commodious, profitable, pleasant, fit,
commotion, rebellion, trouble, or disqui-
communicate, make partaker, or giue
part vnto
[fr] communaltie, common people, or com-
communion, (* synonyms *) fellow-
communitie, ship. (* synonyms end *)
compact, ioyned together, or an agreement.
compassion, pitty, fellow-feeling
compell, to force, or constraine
compendious, short, profitable

from Nathaniel Bailey's New Universal Dictionary (4th ed., 1759), an essay on language history:




letter a

from Nathaniel Bailey's Dictionarium Britannicum (1730) --


bailey letter a

Bailey uses woodcuts to illustrate some words:

bailey armillary


A Foreigner finds it very difficult to learn how to pronounce our a, in different Words; it having four distinctly differing Sounds; two long, as in Wake, Wall; and two short, as in Wax, Was, and hardly any Rules how to distinguish them, but what are liable to a greater Number of Exceptions.

The Dipthongs form'd with it are liable to as great Difficulties.

Bailey distinguished astrology and astronomy:




Bailey even gives some advice on WMD:


Some illustrations are basic:



some are more complex, like this illustration of a logarithmic curve:


Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755)

The dictionary includes --

  • some unfamiliar words:

Giglet - a wanton
Fopdoodle - a fool
Dandiprat - an urchin
Jobbernowl - a block head

  • some words whose meaning has shifted:

Fireman - a man of violent passions

Pedant - a schoolmaster

and these --

jogger def


definition of orgasm


def of urinator


  • the dictionary contains some errors:

peacock is derived from "peak cock, from the tuft of feathers on its head". In fact, the word is based on the Old English bird name pea, in turn derived from the Latin pava.

Johnson defines windward and leeward as synonyms, when in fact they are opposites (he also says that leeward is an adjective, windward, an adverb):

def of leeward

def of windward

  • some of Johnson's definitions seem too complicated:

definition of couge


definition of network


some are witty insults, like this dig at Boswell and his fellow Scots:

definition of oats

and some are self-deprecating:

DULL, adj.

definition of dull