General English

  • noun a reference book containing articles on many subjects of human knowledge, usually presented in alphabetical order
  • noun a reference book containing articles on a single subject, arranged usually in alphabetical order

Information & Library Science

  • noun a book or set of books offering comprehensive information on all or specialised areas of knowledge.

Origin & History of “encyclopedia”

Etymologically, encyclopedia means ‘general education’. It is a medieval formation, based on the Greek phrase egkúklios paideíā (egkúklios, a compound adjective formed from the prefix en- ‘in’ and kúklos ‘circle’ – source of English cycle – meant originally ‘circular’, and hence ‘general’, and is the ultimate source of English encyclical (17th c.); paideíā ‘education’ was a derivative of país ‘boy, child’, which has given English paederast (18th c.), paedophilia (20th c.), pedagogue (14th c.), pedant (16th c.), and paediatrician (20th c.)). this referred to the general course of education which it was customary to give a child in classical Greece, and after it was merged into a single word egkuklopaideíā and transmitted via medieval Latin encyclopedia into English, it retained that meaning at first. However, in the 17th century the term began to be applied to compendious reference works (the first, or at least the one which did most to establish the name, was perhaps that of J H Alsted in 1632). The Encyclopedia Britannica was first published in 1768.