Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Dictionary for Constant Use

This is the dictionary with a 1906 copyright that my maternal grandfather carried with him in his coat pocket. It is very fragile - the front cover has separated from the pages.  It sits on top of a stack of antique books that belonged to various family members including a small copy of the New Testament that was my father's and a daily prayer book that belonged to my maternal grandmother.

This book has a friendly title: Laird & Lee's Vest Pocket Webster Dictionary for Constant Use. It seems to encourage the user to keep it close. 

The first blank page has my grandfather's name written in his lovely flowing script with the name of the town of Moore's Hill, Indiana noted underneath. I am not sure why he was living there at the time. He must have been attending Moore's Hill College which is now the University of Evansville.

The next page shows a black and white illustration of "Prof. Noah Webster in His Study" with the words "Knowledge is Power" illuminated by a small sunburst design.

The table of contents tells me that this dictionary includes a Key to Pronunciation; Abbreviations Used in Writing and Printing; Synonyms; a Gazetteer of the World; Toasts and Speeches for all Occasions; Rules of Etiquette (things one must avoid saying and doing); Marks of Punctuation; Latin Words Often Met With; Forms of Notes, Bills, etc.; Parliamentary Rules; Value of Foreign Coins; The World's Decisive Battles (there are fifteen listed); and, a Perpetual Calendar.

Good Grief! All this in 200 pages. 

Its one-page Preface assures me that its constant possession is a necessity for every one - man, woman, and child - who cares to speak and write the English language with any degree of correctness.

This is a new edition - the first was published in 1893 - and it contains 30,000 words. It has tiny tabs indicating each letter section. Each page contains two columns of words and a brief definition. Usually the word and the definition take up only one line. 

It is a marvel of compactness and conciseness!

The first word is Aback and the last word is Zumology or Zymology.

In the Gazetteer I learn the land area and population of the world's countries along with its capital cities. And, to my delight, the name of its Ruler. For instance, King Leopold II is the ruler of Belgium, King Edward VII is ruler of Great Britain, Emperor Mutsuhito is ruler of Japan, and Queen Wilhelmina is ruler of The Netherlands.

Here are just a few gems - which really hold true today - from the Etiquette section which lists about 100 rules in four pages:

In Public:
Don't elbow people.
Don't occupy more space in a car than you are entitled to.
Don't take two ladies upon your arm, except for their protection.
(And this one that my grandfather marked) - Don't smoke whenever or wherever it may inconvenience ladies.

In the Parlor:
Don't stare around the room.
Don't ask questions about the price of the furniture.
Don't interrupt; don't contradict; don't be quarrelsome.
Don't stay too long anywhere.

In the Dining-Room:
Don't keep other people waiting; be there on time.
Don't make any noise with your mouth when eating.
Don't come to the table half-dressed, half-washed, or half-combed.

In Your Dress and Habits:
Don't let one day pass without a thorough cleansing of your person.
Don't use hair dye, hair oil or pomade.

In Your Speech:
Don't say feller, winder, tomorrer for fellow, window, tomorrow.
Don't use slangy words; they are vulgar.
Don't use profane words; they are sinful.

On the very last page I just discovered this note written in my grandfather's hand:

Begun board at Mrs. Lyttle's June 18th $2.50

Mrs. Lyttle was my great-grandmother. At this time she was a widow and rented out a few rooms in her house to college students. My grandfather was attending engineering school here and that is how he came to meet my grandmother, Lula.

Wow! There is much information - both practical and personal - to be found in this little book. I am glad I took the time to study it and that I could share my discoveries with you.


  1. How lovely to have this piece of family history. The note in the back is priceless! So much practical knowledge and good advice in the book itself, too. I'm glad you shared this with us!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I never really took the time until now to look all the way through this little gem. I was delighted to find so much information. The Etiquette Rules are such a glimpse into life at the turn of the last century. There is another section of rules on Making Calls...not our cell phone calls, but calls to people At Home. Everyone who was anyone had his or her own Calling Cards that they would leave upon a visit. A delightful practice. Of course, that was a time people actually stayed home to receive visitors!

      As always, thanks for your comments!

  2. Thank you for sharing this compact piece of words, how to comport oneself, and family history, Belle. What a treasure this is for you to have.

    1. Thank you, Penny, for your comments. I am glad I looked through this little book and discovered so much fine information. I know my grandfather got a lot of use out of this book. I wonder how much it cost? There is no price but it probably cost a nickel! The $2.50 that he noted about the boarding was probably his weekly rent!

      Are there even boarding houses any more? I know my dad used to tell stories of living in one when he was in college as well. I think he got breakfast and dinner and someone would shine his shoes at night! Such a deal. .

  3. What a little treasure! How civilized we'd be if we followed those simple rules. How wonderful to have your grandfather's notations, too.

    1. Hi Joan, Yes, I was really struck by how civilized the world would be if more of those etiquette tips were followed! My grandfather was the perfect gentleman and I am sure he learned some of that art from this little book.

  4. Wonderful! I love "marital - of the husband". I guess we can see who counted back then. ;-)

    1. Ha, ha, Vicki. Good catch. I noticed that the etiquette rules were tilted toward men. I suppose women were just naturally genteel and didn't need to be reminded how to act.