Dictionaries: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780199573790

Lynda Mugglestone
160 ページ
121 x 174 mm
Very Short Introductions



  • Examines the history from their origins to modern day online and electronic dictionaries
  • Explores both the myths and reality about dictionaries
  • Includes examples comparing dictionary entries in different volumes through time and across nations
  • Considers the idea that dictionaries are cultural documents that are connected to the world in which they were produced

Do, or should, dictionaries control language? How do they treat language change, both now and in the past? Which words do dictionaries leave out - and on what grounds? 

Dictionaries are far more than works which list the words and meanings of a language. In this Very Short Introduction Lynda Mugglestone shows that all dictionaries are partial and all are selective. They are human products, reflecting the dominant social and cultural assumptions of the time in which they were written.

Dictionaries exist then not only as works which seek to document language, but also as cultural documents that are connected to the world in which they were produced. Exploring common beliefs about dictionaries, providing glimpses of behind the scenes dictionary makers at work, and confronting the problems of how a word is to be defined, Mugglestone shows that dictionaries are always, and inevitably, more than the crafting of a simple list of words. Concluding with a look at the range of modern dictionaries and transformations, from online dictionaries such as urbandictionary.com or wictionary to txt-spk and slang, she reveals the controversial nature of the debates about communication and language, showing that only in written and spoken English does the language of dictionaries exist in full.


1: Identity
2: History
3: Craft
4: Authority
5: Truth
6: Last words


Lynda Mugglestone, Professor of the History of English, Pembroke College, University of Oxford
Lynda Mugglestone has written widely on a range of aspects of language, culture, and the history of dictionaries. While two books Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the OED Environmental economics ography and the OED: Pioneers in the Untrodden Forest (OUP, 2001; 2003) have focussed on the Oxford English Dictionary, a range of articles and chapters in other books have examined the history of lexicography outside this period, as well as the complex issues generated by taboo labelling, or the art of definition. Professor Mugglestone has also edited the Oxford History of English.