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Authenticating the Vocabulary: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Lexicographical Practice

N.E. Osselton


Thomas Blount is unique among English compilers of the seventeenth century in systematically naming books and authors as evidence for the use of words entered in his dictionary. Such documentation of the vocabulary would now be associated with scholarly historical dictionaries such as the Johnson and the OED, rather than with a small dictionary for general use. In his Glossographia (1656) Blount differs from these by referring mainly to contemporary writings (and without giving quotations) and in being selective in his attestations, for about one in twenty of all entries. An analysis is presented of the types of words thus treated, and of the varied purposes served by his references to external sources: he sees the need to authenticate the less stable parts of the English vocabulary of his day - neologisms, exotic terms, semi-technical and learned words. Blount probably derived this lexicographical technique from the Latin dictionaries of his time. A century earlier than Dr Johnson, he confronted some of the same problems in justifying entries made in his dictionary, and produced different but equaIly valid answers to them.

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