Thomas Blount's Glossographia


First published in 1656, Thomas Blount's Glossographia was one of many dictionaries written in the mid 17th century. Dictionaries were growing in popularity during this period, and dictionary-makers were experimenting with different techniques.

The Glossographia lists over 11,000 words. Blount defined words derived from Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Saxon, Turkish, French and Spanish. He also explained specialist words – those used in fields such as mathematics, anatomy, war, music and architecture. In the preface to the dictionary, Blount explains how he had often stumbled over these words in books, without completely understanding them. He believed that the Glossographia would be 'very useful for all such as desire to understand what they read'.

Words in the street

Blount recognised that many of the new words entering the English language were those spoken in the street. He saw that tradesmen and merchants were collecting words as well as wares on their journeys overseas. Many of these new words, such as coffee, chocolate, drapery, boot, omelette or balcony, were those used in shops or other public places – drinking houses and the shops of  tailors, shoemakers or barbers. And the English, explains Blount, adore novelty: 'they forge new phrases, and that which is newest is best liked'.

Lexicographer as storyteller

Unlike earlier texts written by Richard Mulcaster and Robert Cawdrey, the Glossographia provided a substantial and often complex definition for each word. Sometimes Blount seems more like a storyteller than a dictionary-maker.

In addition, he often refers to the words' origins (or etymologies). In fact, the Glossographia was the first monolingual English dictionary to explore the origins of words – an approach that paved the way for future lexicographers.

Who was Thomas Blount?

Born in 1618, Thomas Blount wrote a number of books on a range of subjects – from English law to famous battles. He was particularly interested in languages, and explored all sorts of unusual modes of communication, for example hieroglyphics, symbols, emblems, rhetoric and parables.

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1661, London
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Public Domain
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British Library

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