“I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was

a poem about everything.”

–Steven Wright

This is an image of the first edition of the

Oxford English Dictionary.


A dictionary helps us to understand a language in a way that no other book can. It is a collection of words in one or more languages. A dictionary defines a word, informs about its usage and tells its right pronunciation. When and who compiled the first dictionary in any language is an interesting question to ask. According to some historians, linguists and etymologists, one of the earliest dictionaries known, and which is still extant today in an abridged form, was written in Latin during the reign of the emperor Augustus. It is known by the title De Significatu Verborum (“On the meaning of words”) and was originally compiled by Verrius Flaccus.

Afterwards, many scholars of different languages compiled many dictionaries. For instance, Kitab al-Ayn was the first ever dictionary for the Arabic language it was written by Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi in 8th century. Similarly, The first book generally regarded as the first English dictionary was written as Robert Cawdrey, a schoolmaster and former Church of England clergyman, in 1604. At present there is hardly any language that does not have at least a dozen dictionaries.