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The First English Dictionary, 1604: Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall [Hardcover]

Robert Cawdrey

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Book Description

Here is a real treat for lovers of English - the very first dictionary in our language. Contrary to popular opinion, this honour goes not to Samuel Johnson, whose definitive tome appeared in 1755, but to Robert Cawdrey, who published his Table Alphabeticall in 1604. Written for the benefit of Ladies, Gentlewomen or any other unskilfull persons, this was not a book for scholars but was aimed squarely at the non-fiction best-seller list of its day. It is a treasure-house of meaning, bristling with arresting and eminently quotable definitions. For example geometrie is the 'art of measuring the earth', and hecticke is 'inflaming the hart, and soundest parts of the bodie', while barbarian is 'a rude person', and a concubine is a 'harlot, or light huswife'. Cawdrey did set out to create an exhaustive catalogue of the language but rather a guide which would unlock the mystery of hard usual English wordes, borrowed from the Hebrew, Greeke, Latine, or French for educated gentlefolk encountering new words which English was then absorbing at a phenomenal rate. Every entry in this list of 2,543 words sheds interesting light on early modern life and the development of the language. This edition, prepared from the sole surviving copy of the first edition, now in the Bodleian Library, also includes an extensive introduction setting the dictionary in its historical, social and literary context, and exploring the unusual and interesting career of its little-known author. Published eight years ahead of the first of the first Italian dictionary and 35 years ahead of the first French dictionary, this work shows Cawdrey as a man ahead of his time and foreshadows the phenomenal growth of English and its eventual triumph as the new global lingua franca.

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"It is magicke, inchaunting, and makyth me to maffle and bleate. A fulgent thing, deserving of great claritude."-Stephen Fry "Previously, no-one had imagined what today seems so blindingly obvious, that a dictionary should run seamlessly, from A-Z ... It is difficult to overemphasize its importance to the English language."-Simon Winchester "This is a gnarled, rude, fierce old dictionary and utterly without 'calliditie' ('craftiness, or deceit'). It may not provide much 'clavicorde' ('mirth') and it certainly 'maffles' ('stammers'), but it also 'inchaunts' ('bewitches')."-New York Sun "Wordsmiths, your ship has come in: A new book-well, sort of new-should keep you pleasantly perusing till dawn... Few books are as delightful as this compendium, thought to be the first alphabetical dictionary."-Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

About the Author

John Simpson is Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, the world's largest dictionary programme. He edited (with Edmund Weiner) the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, published to great acclaim in 1989. He is a member of the English Faculty at Oxford and of the Philological Society (where the idea of the Dictionary was first mooted in the 1850s), and a Fellow of Kellogg College.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you for a dictionary from 1604 12 Sep 2007
By A. Them - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Using words from the dictionary itself, I composed this thank-you:

I would be reachless if I were not to raunge a morigerous brachygraphie to thank the one who impetrated this oblectation of a book. I cannot now oppugne such clavicordes it has brought to this half-pistated swaine of a smatterer. I dehort anyone's periclitating to combure this book; that would be menstrous misprission.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Abandon to Zodiak 19 Jan 2011
By Mary A. Swaty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fascinating for those interested in words. The dictionary is put into modern typeface for accessibility and a biography of Cawdrey is added.

This ed. would be improved by the addition of a few pages of definitions in facsimile; the original typefaces and how they are used are interesting in themselves even if not easy for modern readers.

Contrary to the jacket notes, this is not the first new ed. in 350 years. There was a facsimile ed. in 1970 A table alphabeticall (The English experience, its record in early printed books published in facsimile), no. 226). I suppose that a purist could argue that a facsimile ed. is not a new ed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first Dictionary of 'hard words' imported from Hebrew, Greek, Latin and French 10 July 2011
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
This book has an outstanding introduction in which John Simpson explains the background to its compiling and its significance. In the course of this he presents an outline of the life of Robert Cawdry who was truly an adventurous innovative and courageous soul. Defrocked for his dissenting opinions he went his own way in writing and compiling books, while supporting a very large family. He was aided in his work by his son Thomas. He hoped to provide help to the general public to those ordinary folk i.e. non-scholars, who did not know the meaning of many terms recently introduced into the language. This was in a time of spectacular development of the language, Elizabethan England. The book was of great help to subsequent makers of English-English dictionaries and so is an important milestone historically. Many of the terms and their definitions are identical with those we know today although with slightly different spellings. But there are some quite unrecognizable to us today. This makes the reading of the text a kind of game in which one may pick out delights here and there, and sense how spellings and meanings of words have altered in time.
A few examples:

alarum: a sound to the battel
elegancie :finesse of speech
iudaisme : worshipping one God without Christ
poet(gr) a verse-maker
profound: deepe or high
rheume , gr. A distilling of humours from the head
sanitie : health or soundness
singularitie: being like no boy else, in opinion, or other wayes
thwite: shaue
traffique(fr) bargayning
5.0 out of 5 stars REVIVED... 17 July 2014
By Mark Karamian, M.D., Ph.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Highly appreciated ouvre for reviving our philological and lexicographical gems.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cawdrey's Table Alphabetical 24 Aug 2007
By Dr. L. G. Walker, Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Bodleian Library has done a great service for those who love words and dictionaries by reprinting the first English dictionary of 1604.
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