A dictionary seems pretty straight forward, the words are listed alphabetically, and all you have to do is find the right page and look for the word you’re trying to find. However, there are some interesting facts about the dictionary that you might not know.

It Takes a Lot of Work to Add a New Word

When people use a word/phrase frequently enough that it shows up in print and online publications, lexicographers will collect citations of the word, document the source and record its contextual meaning. Afterwards, lexicographers will conduct database research, and find evidence that people from various backgrounds have used the word over a period of time. Finally, a decision will be made to include the new word in an upcoming edition of the dictionary.

The First English Dictionary Only Included Difficult Words

Dictionaries are typically thought of as large tomes that contain every single word known to man. However, the early versions of the dictionary beg to differ. They didn’t contain any simple or common words, but only the difficult, not often heard of words. Back in the early 17th century, the dictionary was a list of hard words with easy to understand definitions.

Noah Webster Learned 26 Languages to Write His Dictionary

While Noah Webster isn’t the first American to produce a dictionary, his name has become affiliated with the American dictionary. With the hope of creating a unique American lexicon with Americanized spelling and proper pronunciation of words, Webster researched word origins and sources, and became an etymology expert. He learned 26 languages, which included Sanskrit and Old English, to write his dictionary.

The First Merriam-Webster Dictionary Cost $6

When Webster died, George and Charles Merriam bought the rights to revise Webster’s dictionary. Later on, they sold the dictionary for 6 dollars.

It Took Almost 50 Years to Create The Oxford English Dictionary

In 1857, the Philological Society of London asked for a comprehensive English language dictionary, with words from the 12th century to the present. In 1879, they collaborated with the Oxford University Press, and work went forward. Now the Oxford English Dictionary is one of the most respected and widely used dictionaries.  

J.R.R. Tolkien Researched Word Etymologies for the OED

After serving in World War I, J.R.R. Tolkien worked as an editor’s assistant on the OED. He researched the etymologies of certain words that started with the letter w. After his time at the OED, Tolkien worked as an English professor and went on to write The Lord of the Rings.


All credit goes to DEA Education Center