The Professor and the Madman

“The “English dictionary,” in the sense that we commonly use the phrase today – as an alphabetically arranged list of English words, together with an explanation of their meanings – is a relatively new invention.  Four hundred years ago there was no such convenience available on any English bookshelf.

There was none available, for instance, when William Shakespeare was writing his plays.  Whenever he came to use an unusual word, or to set a word in what seemed an unusual context – and his plays were extraordinarily rich with examples – he had almost no way to check the propriety of what he was about to do.”

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester pg. 80

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