Saturday, November 23, 2013

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, 1947

This is the dictionary that we used when my grandparents and I played Scrabble. I was quite young and they were kind enough to let me look up words before I made a play. I still have their original Scrabble game with its real wood letter tiles. In the box are the scores recorded from some of those early games written in my grandfather's hand. As a civil engineer, he was the one good at math and we trusted his addition skills.

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition has a copyright date of 1947. The cover is dark brown with decorative embossing and the title is stamped in gold. The letters are thumb-indexed and a black-and-white portrait of Mr. Noah Webster graces page one. It was printed by H.G. Houghton and Company, Electrotypers, Printers, and Binders in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is based on Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition, copyright 1934.

My grandfather wrote his name in pencil on the inside cover. Underneath that, in pen, my grandmother had written his full name, their address, and noted Christmas, 19--. I wonder why she didn't know the year that it was given as a gift? Perhaps she wrote this entry after my grandfather died and couldn't remember the date but wanted to make note of the circumstances. 

Weighing in at 1276 pages, this is a hefty book of words. It contains 1800 illustrations, a listing of Colleges and Universities, a biographical dictionary, and a pronouncing gazetteer. So in case you should ever want to untangle the pronunciation of Tsinling Shan, a mountain range in China, this is your book.

I love the dictionary's illustration of this little fellow.

There is a list of Common English Christian Names - both men's and women's. And who could do without the section on Foreign Words and Phrases including Proverbs, Colloquial Expressions, and the Mottoes of the States and Leading Nations. 

And here is something a bit outdated: a section titled Preparation of Copy for the Press advising that your "Manuscript should be kept and mailed flat. If necessary, it may be folded, but it should never by rolled." The editors have kindly included an explanation of proofreading marks and have used them to correct a proof of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Seven pages of New Words include definitions for air condition, jam session, newscaster, and televise. 

In the Preface, the dictionary user is told that Lowland Scottish terms, which formed a separate glossary in the previous edition of the Collegiate, have in this book been made an integral part of the general vocabulary. The selections of these terms, based on their use by such authors as Burns and Scott, has been made under the supervision of the Editor in Chief.

Remember, this was back in the day when Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott would have been household names. No need to identify them by first name!

I wrote about three other of the seven dictionaries that sit on my shelves here and here. Getting to know my word companions and writing about them is proving to be quite a nostalgic project.

Thank you, Mr. Webster.


  1. I love all the arcane information included in these old dictionaries and the wonderful illustrations.

    Your mention of the familiarity of the name Scott and Burns reminded me of a funny story. When I was in my twenties, I was sitting in a bar and overheard two people talking about the book The Talisman. I was a bit surprised because I knew these two people and hadn't realized they were readers. Just as I was about to butt in and start talking about how wonderful Scott's books were, I realized they were talking about Stephen King's book The Talisman! Different parts of the reading spectrum.

    1. That is a funny story, Joan. Thanks for sharing it. I must say I will take Sir Walter over Mr. King any day!

  2. What a wonderful dictionary! Mine has no covers: the cat ate them. Certainly to inherit a dictionary from grandparents has meaning. I wish I could look up my Scrabble words first now.:)

    1. Those darn cats. Yours must truly be an intellectual!

      Oh, don't be fooled, Kat. I still look up Scrabble words first. The precedent was set long ago.

  3. I have this dictionary indicated on the title page to have been published in
    1948. The copyright page shows copyright 1936 by G. & C. Merriam Co., with
    previous editions by that company in 1916, 1925 and 1931. It was additionally
    copyrighted in 1926 and 1941 in the Philippine Islands; and as noted above,
    “based upon” the International version in1934.
    I acquired mine used at the University of Wisconsin, Madison WI in 1952
    because I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. It has the name “Don Weissing”
    penned on the first page inside the cover. Just recently, I was attracted to the
    Gettysburg editing draft shown above, the same as in mine, of course. I was
    mainly curious about the legitimacy of that editing draft. I think that would be a
    story all in itself.

    1. I love that we have this same dictionary! How astounding to me that you found this post from a year ago. Thanks so much for commenting and giving me a history of your dictionary. I am not sure what is going on with the editing of the Gettysburg Address either. Someone must have had fun with it though.

    2. I think it was Mary McCarthy about whom it was said that while reading her work, you had to hold a dictionary in one hand and her book in the other. I might have heard that on a Dick Cavett television show. Since you like to read, you have likely read some of her books. My having done so may be a partial explanation about how I wore out this dictionary.

    3. I have read other authors and had the same feeling about their books and a dictionary. Good one. And I miss Dick Cavett! I did read McCarthy's "The Group" many years ago and most recently her take on Florence in "The Stones of Florence".

      Although an online dictionary is quick and easy, for just browsing and increasing one's general knowledge, a real dictionary can't be beat. I suppose that is why I still have so many of them on my shelves.

  4. I have been trying to find and read a copy of this dictionary online, with no avail as it is very old. May you please define "communism" according to this dictionary? Much appreciated

    1. Happy to fulfill your request.

      com' mu nism (kum u niz m), n. [Fr. communisme]
      1. A system of social organization in which goods are held in common. 2. Communalism (sense 1). 3. Any system of social organization involving common ownership of the agents of production, and some approach to equal distribution of the products of industry.