For centuries, dictionaries have had a place in the curriculum, whether when learning one’s native tongue in their formative years, studying languages of faraway places or times gone by, or mastering a new subject. While the earliest recorded dictionary dates from ancient times and was documented on a cuneiform tablet, its style and format has expanded from simple lists of words to include discipline-specific academic tomes, popular guides, and informative glossaries.

Dictionaries provide clarification to the literature of construction, chefs, chemists, and a myriad other trades and courses of study and enable researchers to understand the meaning of historical texts. Etymology, or the study of the origins of words and how their meaning has changed over time, keeps older dictionaries relevant and enables readers to interpret historical, scientific, and medical texts as both meanings and words have evolved.

Highlights of the exhibit include a first edition of Noah Webster's A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806) and an exceptionally scarce 1862 copy of Hori Tatsnoskay’s A Pocket Dictionary of the English and Japanese Language. As visitors to the exhibit note, dictionaries serve to educate and elucidate and keep us attuned to the ever-evolving state of language. Such popular culture applications, including Word of the Year and the games Scrabble, Words with Friends, and the latest online sensation Wordle, will keep us reaching for dictionaries for generations to come.

The exhibit will be on display this spring during regular building hours in Linderman Library in the Grand Reading Room, Cafe Gallery, and Bayer Galleria. Please contact the Libraries Special Collections for more information.