Category: Words

The history of the dictionary begins in antiquity, with the first known dictionaries appearing as early as 2400 BC. The earliest known dictionaries were written in Sumerian and Akkadian, two ancient Mesopotamian languages. These early dictionaries were mainly used to list words and their definitions, but they also provided other information such as synonyms, etymologies, and even illustrations. In the 5th century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote his Cratylus dialogue which included a discussion of the use of language in defining objects. This dialogue is considered to be one of the earliest attempts at creating a dictionary-like document. Around this same time period, another Greek philosopher named Aristotle wrote his own treatise on language which included an alphabetical list of words. This work is thought to be one of the earliest examples of a true dictionary. In ancient Rome, Marcus Terentius Varro wrote De Lingua Latina which is considered by many to be the first Latin dictionary. This work listed Latin words along with their definitions and was used by many Roman scholars for centuries afterwards. During Medieval times, scholars such as Isidore of Seville created works that included both Latin and Greek words along with their definitions. These works are often referred to as “encyclopedic dictionaries” since they contained more information than just lists of words and their meanings. In 1572, Robert Estienne published his Thesaurus Linguae Latinae which was a comprehensive Latin dictionary containing more than 30 thousand entries. In 1604, John Bullokar published his English Expositor which was an English-language dictionary that contained over 10 thousand entries. Throughout the 17th century there were numerous other works that attempted to create comprehensive dictionaries for various languages including French, German and Spanish among others. In 1755 Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary of the English Language which was a comprehensive work containing over 40 thousand entries along with detailed etymologies for each word listed within it. This work became very popular and served as an influential model for future dictionaries throughout Europe and North America including Noah Webster’s American Dictionary (1828) and Oxford English Dictionary (1884). Today dictionaries are produced all around the world in various languages including web-based versions such as Google Translate or Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary that provide quick access to definitions from any device connected to the internet.