Working Methods that Lead to Glossographia

See About Glossographia if you haven’t already for a more general overview of the work.


“I profess to have done little with my own Pencil”

-Thomas Blount on Glossographia


“I hope I have taken nothing upon trust, which is not authentick”

-Thomas Blount on Glossographia


Blount extensively cited sources, and claims no originality in his definitions. Some scholars have considered his work underrated due to the huge number of sources he went through. As a recorder rather than an inventor of words, Blount’s work was nonetheless painstaking in surveying earlier hard word dictionaries for word origins. Upon studying Blount’s working methods, Schafer notes that O. E. D frequently lists Thomas Blount as the sole source of a neologism, which reveals that some of Blount’s sources were not surveyed when the O. E. D was compiled.

Osselton considers Blount’s Glossographia to be a one of a kind work. It is not quite a historical dictionary, in which all words of language deserve equal documentation, because Blount cited selectively. An example is with the common word “wicket” in which Blount did not quote authorities for, whereas Johnson’s later dictionary provided many quotations for it. Blount most often quoted his contemporaries such as travel books, histories, and more that fell within the reading material of education in his time. Glossographia was therefore intended to be a small work for everyday use, not particularly aimed at scholars.

“Wicket” in Blount’s Glossographia, 1661 edition

The vocabulary of English in the seventeenth century was unstable, and dictionaries of that time contained a lot of “ghost words,” from other languages such as Latin for compilers to have the semblance of more “hard words,” though it was doubtful if those words “exist” in English. According to Osselton, referring to scholarly writings was a practice that had been widespread in the sixteenth century, but declined in the seventeenth century. Blount’s citations served to legitimize words, and were necessary because a seventeenth-century reader really needed to know if it were safe to use a word.

Blount’s Glossographia was unique in its selective authentication and wide scope of appendices to scholarly works, both reflecting Blount’s systematic work and discretion.


(Adapted from “Working Methods of Thomas Blount,” and “A Study in 17th Century Lexicographical Practice”)