5 fun facts about dictionaries


At first glance, the old dictionary seems outdated, and it might even look simple – you just have a bunch of words and their meaning. The truth, in all honesty, is much more complicated, and the amount of work it takes to create a dictionary is immense. Words are listed in alphabetical order so you can access words fast. This is a fact that everybody knows.

But there are many other secrets that the dictionary holds, which is the reason why I created this list, so you can learn to appreciate this dying creation more before it goes extinct from our bookshops. Without further ado, let me introduce you to some odd trivia about the mysterious and intricate art of dictionary-making.

A time-consuming task

The first thing you might not know is the fact that it takes a lot of work and time to add a new word into the database. This is because not all words are here to stay, and a possible new addition has to be used for a specific period and by a standard number of people before linguists decide it is time we introduced it in our official language.

You have to document its genesis and source, conduct database research, and put it into context – who uses it, why and when. After all that hard work is done, an editor committee will review it and decide if it is worthy of holding a place in the dictionary. Each publishing house that creates dictionaries has its own committee, that’s why you can find a word in some dictionaries while in others you can’t.


A humble beginning

Did you know that in the beginning, the Merriam-Webster dictionary, arguably the most famous one in the English language history, used to cost only six dollars? The two Merriam brothers acquired the rights to the preexisting Webster Dictionary and printed the book in Springfield, Massachusetts. It sold surprisingly well, which allowed them to publish many new editions. Now, it even branched out into the online environment.


50 years in the making

Our third exciting fact is mindblowing. Everyone has heard of The Oxford Dictionary, but very few know that it took more than fifty years to create it. The Philological Society of London decided in 1857 that it was time to create an updated and comprehensive dictionary that included words from the 12th century until that point. They contracted the Oxford University Press for the task, and the years of work resulted in the most respected dictionary of all time.

Fake words

Another peculiar thing is the fact that fake words make it into the final edit of a dictionary. This happens because of human errors and sometimes because tricksters feel the need to make jokes at a high level. Some words appear distorted because of spelling mistakes like missing hyphens, and they make it into the mainstream changing the words entirely into our collective minds. This shows that language is alive and not something rigid.


High aspirations

For the last fact, we have to go back to Noah Webster. He used to handwrite most of the entries in his dictionary, and he would only choose hard words as worthy of his creation. Moreover, he decided he wanted to be the first person to write an all American dictionary, with the American way of spelling and pronunciation of the English words.