Latin in Medieval Britain - Sources, Language, and Lexicography

The Dictionary

To mark the centenary of the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (DMLBS), and the publication of its final fascicle in December 2013, the Bodleian Library is putting on an display on the Dictionary and its sources.

The first beginnings

In February 1913, Robert Whitwell, an Oxford historian and contributor to the New English Dictionary (later the Oxford English Dictionary), began to campaign for a new dictionary of medieval Latin to replace Du Cange’s Glossarium (first published 1678). His proposal was adopted by the British Academy and was publicized in the newspapers of the day (see ‘Documents’).

The response was immediate. Expressions of interest and offers of help poured in, two of which are displayed here (see ‘Documents’). This was the beginning of the process that would eventually lead to the DMLBS.

Collecting the evidence, and compiling the dictionary

Volunteers were asked to read texts and select quotations illustrating new words, or interesting or novel uses of words. Instructions (see ‘Documents’) were issued to help them to compile these quotations on pieces of notepaper called ‘slips’. Taken together, these quotation slips (over 750,000 of them) provided the evidence to write the dictionary.

The process of reading texts and gathering slips took over fifty years. For examples of how sources were used to create slips and provide our entries, see ‘from sources to dictionary’.

In 1967, the evidence was complete enough to begin work on the Dictionary proper. The first fascicule (part) of the Dictionary, covering the letters A and B, was published in 1975. For more milestones in the the project's history, see the timeline (‘Documents’).

The future

The final fascicule of the DMLBS was published on December 11, 2013. Digitization of the text began in 2009, with a view to the preparation of an online edition, freely available to all, due in 2014.

For more information about the history of the dictionary, visit the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources web site.



Whitwell's appeal, as published in The Times

Whitwell's appeal (page 1)

Whitwell's appeal (page 2)

Responses to Whitwell's appeal - Letter 1

Responses to Whitwell's appeal - Letter 1 (cont.)

Responses to Whitwell's appeal - Letter 2

The first page of the 'Rules for the Guidence of Readers'

Timeline of the project's history, 1965–2013.