Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Old Dictionary Appreciation #1

Old Dictionary Appreciation #1

My affinity for old dictionaries should be no surprise to Wordmonger followers. This appreciation has been fueled by experience with watered-down newer dictionaries, or – sadder still – “student dictionaries” that may as well have had the marrow sucked out of their bones.

I can find no Old Dictionary Appreciation Day, Week, or Month, so I’ve decided to celebrate old dictionaries whenever the spirit moves me. This week is one such week.

It doesn’t take dusty, leather-bound dictionaries to stoke my fires. Dictionaries published as recently as the 1960s simply make me smile. I find what I need in them. They include the features I expect.

One such element is the “synonym” feature which closes the occasional entry. This feature takes similar words or terms & parses out the shades of meaning. Here are two synonym entries from my 1959 Webster’s New World Dictionary:

Intelligent implies the ability to learn or understand from experience or to respond successfully to a new experience; clever implies quickness in learning or understanding, but sometimes connotes a lack of thoroughness or depth; alert emphasizes quickness in sizing up a situation; bright and smart are somewhat informal, less precise equivalents for any of the preceding; brilliant implies an unusually high degree of intelligence; intellectual suggests keen intelligence coupled with interest and ability in the more advanced fields of knowledge.

Beautiful is applied to that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests that the object of delight approximates one’s conception of an ideal; lovely applies to that which delights by inspiring affection or warm admiration; handsome implies attractiveness by reason of pleasing proportions, symmetry, elegance, etc., and carries connotations of masculinity, dignity, or impressiveness; pretty implies a dainty, delicate or graceful quality in that which pleases and carries connotations of femininity or diminutiveness; comely applies to persons only and suggests a wholesome attractiveness of form and features rather than a high degree of beauty; fair suggests beauty that is fresh, bright or flawless and, when applied to persons, is used especially of complexion and features; good-looking is closely equivalent to handsome or pretty, suggesting a pleasing appearance, but not expressing the fine distinctions of either word; beauteous in  poetry and lofty prose is now often used in humorously disparaging references to beauty.

Is that poetry, or what?

Good followers, what bits of old dictionaries do you fancy?

My thanks go out to this week’s source, Webster’s 1959 New World Dictionary of the American Language


  1. " intellectual suggests keen intelligence coupled with interest and ability in the more advanced fields of knowledge."

    The few times I've been called intellectual, I had the distinct sense that it was intended to be somewhat akin to being called a demented crocodile. Hmmm,

  2. What a beauteous and brilliant post. I love old dictionaries! Old encyclopedias too. I have two versions of the Britannica: 1911 and 1951. They give such an amazing picture of how the world was perceived at those times.

  3. Love every bit of my dictionary, which I got from my Dad's bookshelf in Buffalo, NY, when he died. Published in 1953 by G. & C. Merriam Co for the American Book Company, it's titled the Webster's Student Dictionary - published back when students were still expected to actually learn. It might be a mere student dictionary, minus a lot of bells and whistles, but it's solid and comprehensive and always gives me what I want.

    Amazingly - I never noticed this before today - It's got a stamp inside: Stanley B. Ellis School, Sunnyvale, CA. This 59-yr-old book got discarded from the school (probably in the 70s), transported somehow to Buffalo, NY, and has now been brought back to Los Osos, CA. Whoda thunk it??

  4. Hi Steve, Anne & Susan,
    Thanks so much for dropping in. Susan, I got my '59 from a used bookstore. It replaced my beloved '47, which eventually came apart in my hands, and started its life with me in a used bookstore. One of the beauties of printed books is that they can have multiple lives with multiple owners. And Anne, encyclopedias, indeed. Steve, I'd never refer to you as a demented crocodile; odd duck for sure, but never demented crocodile.

  5. Words are wonderful! Pecking through my old dictionaries is delightful. But my online dictionary is great, too. I'm able to hear them as well.