Have you heard the one-line joke, usually attributed to Steven Wright, about the dictionary? ‘I finally got around to reading the dictionary’, it goes. ‘Turns out the zebra did it.’ It’s a good joke, but of course ‘zebra’ isn’t the last word in any English dictionary worth the name (what about ‘zoo’, for starters?), and besides, Steven Wright probably never said it. Still, we’ll overlook that and get on with this post comprising a dozen of the choicest and most fascinating facts about dictionaries down the ages.
The first English dictionary, A Table Alphabeticall, published in 1604, described itself as being ‘for the benefit of Ladies … or other unskilfull persons’.
Chambers Dictionary defines a kazoo as ‘a would-be musical instrument’ and an éclair as ‘a cake, long in shape but short in duration’.