General English


  • noun a data management structure that allows files to be referenced and sorted.
  • noun a part of a spellchecker consisting of a list of correctly spelt words against which the program checks a text

Information & Library Science

  • noun a book or compact disc containing the words of a language arranged alphabetically with their meanings

Origin & History of “dictionary”

The term dictionary was coined in medieval Latin, probably in the 13th century, on the basis of the Latin adjective dictionārius ‘of words’, a derivative of Latin dictiō ‘saying’, or, in medieval Latin, ‘word’. English picked it up comparatively late; the first known reference to it is in The pilgrimage of perfection 1526: ‘and so Peter Bercharius (Pierre Bercheur, a 15th-century French lexicographer) in his dictionary describeth it’.

Latin dictiō (source also of English diction (15th c.)) was a derivatives of the verb dicere ‘say’. Its original meaning was ‘point out’ rather than ‘utter’, as demonstrated by its derivative indicāre (source of English indicate) and words in other languages, such as Greek deiknúnai ‘show’, Sanskrit diç- ‘show’ (later ‘say’), and German zeihen ‘accuse’, which come from the same ultimate source. Its past participle gave English dictum (16th c.), and the derived verb dictāre ‘assert’ produced English dictate (17th c.) and dictator (14th c.). It has been the basis of a wide range of other English words, from the more obvious derivatives like addict and predict to more heavily disguised offspring such as condition, index, and judge.