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Centennial Celebration of The Century Dictionary Origins Richard W. Bailey Lhe Century Dictionary (hereafter, the Century) is, by all accounts , one of the great achievements in American lexicography, celebrated by Frances A. March in 1889 as "the handsomest dictionary that ever was made" (450)—a tribute repeated by Sidney Landau in 1984 (72). In 1913, Stewart Archer Stegner, with a sidelong and admiring glance at the unfinished OED, declared: "The Century is, on the whole, the best completed dictionary of the English language" (117). For 100 years, it has been regarded as a work of minute scholarship and broad appeal to a wide public. Like all good dictionaries, the Century built upon its predecessors and added new features and innovations to traditional practice. The ancestral tree leading up to it was carefully laid out by the successive editors. The story begins with John Ogilvie's Imperial Dictionary (hereafter , the Imperial) issued in parts at 2/6 each beginning in 1847 and completed in 1850 (Blackie, 22). In his Preface Ogilvie explained the descent of the large English dictionaries: "The principal dictionaries of the English language in use at present, areJohnson's, first published in 1755; Richardson's, commenced in 1826; and that of Webster, of America, first published in this country [that is, Britain] in 1832" (i). Giving these dates was, perhaps, disingenuous. Johnson's 1755 A Dictionary oftheEnglish Language had been enlarged to four volumes by H.J. Todd in 1818, and it was so far from obsolete—and so famous for the name ofits compiler—that the successors toJohnson's publishers would later issue a new version superintended by Robert Gordon Latham in parts (costing 3/6 each) between 1866 and 1870. A series of complete editions—"two volumes in four" was a way of keeping kindred with the original—maintainedJohnson's work in Britain and competed well with Ogilvie's Imperial in the closing decades of the century. Richard W. Bailey Ogilvie dismissed Charles Richardson's A New Dictionary of the Engluh Language on other grounds: "Richardson's dictionary, a work of undoubted merit, may be considered a critical rather than a practical dictionary, and one better adapted for the philological student than the general English reader" (ii). That left only Noah Webster's An American Dictionary oftheEnglish Language occupying the field. The London publishers had begun to issue parts of it in 1830 and brought out a two-volume edition in 1832, omitting the word American and tiding it plainly A Dictionary oftheEnglish Language; it purported to be a revised work, overseen at the press by E. H. Barker of Norfolk "from a copy communicated by the author, and containing many manuscript corrections and additions " (O'Neill, 406). This work, in Ogilvie's view, remained, in 1850, the paragon in lexicography. Webster's dictionary, which forms the basis of the present work [the Imperial], is acknowledged in this country and in America to be not only superior to either of the two former, but to every other dictionary hitherto published. It is more copious in its vocabulary, more correct in its definitions, more comprehensive in its plan, and in the etymological department it is unrivalled, (ii) Of course Ogilvie was obliged to stint this praise of Webster; otherwise, purchasers would have no reason to buy his volume in preference to Webster's. "Upwards of ten years of unremitting toil and research have been spent by the Editor in preparing the work" (iv), he proclaimed. And so the Imperial was, as every new dictionary always has claimed to be, better than its precursors, particularly because it included "English Scientific and Technological" (in the words of Ogilvie's subtide). Despite competition in Britain from Chauncey A. Goodrich's improvement ofWebster—published in London in 1851 by David Bogue— Ogilvie's Imperial remained popular, not least because of its tide. In 1854, Ogilvie added a Supplement, published separately for purchasers of earlier editions and then incorporated into the main alphabet, and the book continued to be reissued through 1881. Walter Graham Blackie, the enterprising and prosperous Glasgow publisher, had a good thing on his hands, and he engaged Charles Annandale to bring the Imperial up to date. Like his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 1-16
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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