Thursday, May 4, 2017

Old dictionaries

Old dictionaries

My affinity for old dictionaries should be no surprise to Wordmonger followers. Sadly, I can find no Old Dictionary Appreciation Day, Week, or Month, so I’ve decided to unilaterally proclaim the first week of May “Old Dictionary Appreciation Week.”

An element I greatly appreciate in older dictionaries 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. The main reason I love the English language is that there are so many words that mean almost the same thing, but not quite. The nuances we are able to express are endless. This flexibility and richness give rise to creativity.

    1. Hey 13grp -- Thanks so much for stopping by, & I couldn't agree more.

  2. Old dictionaries can be fun...and addictive. So can old encyclopedias. I own two full sets on the Encyclopedia Britannica. One from 1911 and one from 1951. The 1911 edition is amazing because of the view of history the authors had. Even the choices of things to cover is colored by the fact the people (almost all men) who wrote it were at the center of an empire.

  3. Hi Anne - Yes, Winston Churchill got it right when he said, "History is written by the victors." And I agree, the choice of what to cover -- what stories to tell -- is pivotal.

  4. I compared the 59 Webster's to my 2000 American heritage. Based on my findings I had to write a blog comparing the two. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy reading your blog posts.