1730 - Bailey's Dictionarium Britannicum

Banner image of Bailey's dictionary


Nathan Bailey's 'Dictionarium Britannicum' was first published in 1730. It contains 48,000 words. Bailey's dictionaries were extremely popular: they were larger and more comprehensive than any other dictionaries of the day, and they also sold more copies. Samuel Johnson owned a copy which he scribbled over, underlining sections and adding his own ideas. It would later help him to write his own dictionary.

An array of words

Bailey includes words from all corners of society in his lexicon - 'hard and technical words', those found in arts, sciences and 'mysteries', words used in anything from anatomy and cosmography to cookery and handicrafts, from painting and optics to meteorology, navigation and philosophy. Unusually, he also includes names of people and of places in Britain. The dictionary is designed for a wide range of readers, having been compiled, writes Bailey, 'as well for the Entertainment of the Curious, as the Information of the Ignorant, and for the Benefit of young Students, Artificers, Tradesmen and Foreigners, who are desirous thorowly to understand what they Speak, Read, or Write.'

New techniques

Many of Bailey's methods would later become important dictionary-making conventions. For example, Bailey explored the origins of words, for which he drew on his knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and Latin; he provided advice on pronunciation; and he attempted to compile a more complete list of words than any other English dictionary writer before him, squeezing in not only specialist or 'hard' words, but also dialect, slang and taboo words. The fact that he included rude or slang words shows that his work was far ahead of its time - such words were left out of most non-slang dictionaries until well into the 19th century.

Bailey ran a boarding school in Stepney where he taught Hebrew, Greek and Latin.