English Dialect Dictionary

Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use, During the Last Two Hundred Years

Joseph Wright, Editor  (Henry Frowde, Publisher to the English Dialect Society, 1898–1905)

The dictionary known as the EDD, born of its originators’ fear that “pure dialect speech” would die at the hands of an increasingly educated public and modern communication (at the time, the telegraph), was published in six weighty volumes at the turn of the twentieth century. Notations specify the site of a word’s origin: UK countries or counties (e.g., Scotland, Kent) plus, less frequently, the United States and other English-speaking nations. Yet the dominance of dialect from the the UK in no way lessens the dictionary’s appeal to word nerds on this side of the Atlantic – or anywhere else, for that matter. What is intended as a quick scan may turn into a marathon as one obscure word after another catches the eye: collyfodger (“one who takes unusual care of himself”)… kemsmackle (“conspicuous; remarkable from some peculiar mark or spot”)…  mackey-moon (“a fool; a silly person”)… scootchy-pawed (“left-landed”)… slotch (“go about slipshod, in loose, untidy shoes”)… tiddywhopper (“an untruth; a falsehood”).

This embarrassment of riches* is crammed with so many surprises I wondered if blog was among its wealth of entries. And indeed it is – but as “a figurative use of block, used of anything resembling a block or log of wood”; a quotation from Randigal Rhymes (1895) reads, “I’ve a nice little blog of a horse.” Following blog is bloggy, one sense of which is “sulky, sullen.” The accompanying quotation, taken from The Exmore Scolding (1746) uses a verb form of bloggy, and would be exceedingly apt today were it not for a Shakespearean personal pronoun and the archaic be: “Thee be always blogging.”

As remarkable as the dictionary is the life of the man charged with its compilation. Joseph Wright (1855–1930) was born dirt-poor in Yorkshire; learned to read at age 15 with the aid of the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress; traveled afar and mastered German, French, and Latin; and worked his way through what is now the University of Leeds. In 1888 Oxford appointed Wright as a lecturer, and thirteen years later he was promoted from deputy professor of philology** to full professor.

Can the EDD be bought? Yes and no. Facsimiles of individual volumes are usually all that’s available – and buyer beware! Most facsimiles sold online appear to include all six EDD volumes but contain no more than one or two. Your alternative is to settle down with the full set at a well-stocked library, ideally when you have time to browse to your heart’s content.

*This phrase, from the French embarras des richesses, originally meant “too much of a good thing” but today tends more toward “an abundance of choices.” Its origin is the 1726 comedy L’embarras des Richesses, written by Abbé d’Allainval.

**Philology (n.) = the study of historical and comparative linguistics; the study of literature or human speech 

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