Bibliophile and his words, Part 2

(Dr. Rocke Robertson collected more than 600 dictionaries and many other books; a true dictionary bibliophile)

There wasn't a great deal of change in English language dictionaries until the middle of the 18th century, when Samuel Johnson published the first volume of his work

Up until that time, English dictionaries were small, although both the French and Italians had published large volumes in the 1600s.

Johnson's two volume edition was the first modern English dictionary, although he managed to also get a few of his personal views into print. Regardless of his viewpoints, Johnson's work was "miles ahead" of other volumes according to Dr. Robertson.

The first major American dictionary was published by Noah Webster in 1826. An earlier edition in 1806 was disastrous, Dr. Robertson points out, although the 1826 book was a good dictionary.

Regarding the domestic dictionary industry, the doctor said there were not very many all-Canadian efforts. "Quite a few words originated in Canada, most of an Indian nature, otherwise we're pretty standard", he said.

One of the earliest Canadian editions he had was a Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase Book, published 1912. It only had a few dozen pages, but many of its definitions were colorful; for example, "Bonehead: A thickhead, all bone and no brains."

"The" dictionary, according to Dr. Robertson, is the Complete Oxford. Completed in 1928, it is the most comprehensive dictionary of the English language ever published. The first volume came out in 1882. The edition has more than 10,000 pages.

Since that time supplements are occasionally published to make corrections to the original as well as to update spellings, definitions, and to add new words.

In addition to its size, the Oxford is unique because as well as the definition of a word, it also gives its history, stating when the word was first recorded, and how it was used.

More than 10,000 people collaborated on the dictionary. It is so comprehensive that the word "set" includes 23 pages of definitions.

Considering its size and expense, the Oxford is a little too much for the average person to contemplate buying. It doesn't contain geographical information or other entries that many people look for in their dictionaries.

—Compiled from excerpts of a newspaper article titled,
"Hallville (Canada) bibliophile has a way with words" by Tom Workman, Press Staff Reporter of
The Winchester Press; Winchester, Ontario, Canada; April 9, 1981; page B-7.

Part 3 of 4 is available from here.