With over half a million words and names defined or described,The Century Dictionary became the largest dictionary of its kind in the English language when it was published. It includes over ten thousand images and illustrations, and required the input of over one hundred scholars to complete. Edited by Sanskrit scholar and linguist William Dwight Whitney, this dictionary became a primary source for subsequent dictionaries and encyclopedias, including the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary. Striving to not only include words in modern usage, The Century Dictionary sought to record the main body of English speech that possessed historical, etymological, literary, scientific, or practical value.
“The first duty of a comprehensive dictionary is collection, not selection. When a full account of the language is sought, every omission of a genuine English form, even when practically necessary, is so far a defect; and it is therefore better to err on the side of broad inclusiveness than of narrow exclusiveness,” writes Whitney in the Preface to the first volume. These twelve volumes, comprised of over ten thousand pages, set a new standard for encyclopedic works, and are considered among the greatest achievements of American lexicography.
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Wherever the English language is spoken, The Century Dictionary is acknowledged to be the only complete, adequate, and final authority on words.
No person whose profession it may be to impart knowledge, can afford to be without The Century Dictionary.
—The American Mathematical Monthly
The most conspicuous literary monument of the nineteenth century.
—The American Anthropologist
William Dwight Whitney (1827–1894) was born in Northampton, Massachusetts and graduated from Williams College. He was a professor of Sanskrit and comparative philology at Yale University. He founded the American Philological Association in 1869, and wrote numerous books on language, grammar, and linguistics. He was the editor-in-chief of the first edition for The Century Dictionary.