Was The 1st Dictionary Sexist?

Today marks the start of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

As a terrible speller, I am always impressed by ten year old kids who can spell ten syllable words.

I’ve heard that contestants who train for a spelling bee often practice by studying the dictionary. I guess that makes sense given that the dictionary contains all of the words they could see in competition.

The only problem is that there are so many words in the dictionary. You could work for weeks and weeks and not even make it to the L’s.

Studying the dictionary must have been easier before it was bogged down with words like gif and selfie.

That leads me to today’s Wonder Why Wednesday

How Many Words Were In The First Dictionary?

According to Wikipedia, the first English alphabetical dictionary was written in 1604 by English school teacher Robert Cawdrey.

Ironically, the first dictionary was called “A Table Alphabeticall,” spelled with two L’s.

The dictionary was only 120 pages and listed 2,543 words. The definitions were very brief, often only one word, and were little more than a list of synonyms.

Apparently Robert Cawdrey thought women weren’t very smart, because he said the purpose of his dictionary was “for benefit and helpe of Ladies, Gentlewomen, or other unskillful persons” (yes, he spelled help with an e).

So there you have it. The first dictionary contained 2,543 words. It was also kind of sexist and spelled alphabetical with two L’s and help with an E.

In case you are wondering, today’s dictionary contains 171,476 words, and doesn’t insult women once in its mission statement.

We’ve come a long way from the 1604 dictionary.



Photo credit: Wikipedia