Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

The Unmasking of English Dictionaries


  • Date Published: January 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108433341

$ 24.99

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Looking for an evaluation copy?

This title is not currently available for evaluation. However, if you are interested in the title for your course we can consider offering an evaluation copy. To register your interest please contact providing details of the course you are teaching.

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • When we look up a word in a dictionary, we want to know not just its meaning but also its function and the circumstances under which it should be used in preference to words of similar meaning. Standard dictionaries do not address such matters, treating each word in isolation. R. M. W. Dixon puts forward a new approach to lexicography that involves grouping words into 'semantic sets', to describe what can and cannot be said, and providing explanations for this. He provides a critical survey of the evolution of English lexicography from the earliest times, showing how Samuel Johnson's classic treatment has been amended in only minor ways. Written in an easy and accessible style, the book focuses on the rampant plagiarism between lexicographers, on ways of comparing meanings of words, and on the need to link lexicon with grammar. Dixon tells an engrossing story that puts forward a vision for the future.

    • Includes a comprehensive account of English dictionary-making from 725 CE until the present day that provides the reader with a snapshot of the evolution of dictionary making, set against changing social conditions
    • Pays attention to the limitations of present-day dictionaries, specifically and in general
    • Shows how plagiarism, which would be avoided in other disciplines, is proudly flaunted in lexicography and explains to the reader why a definition in one dictionary is frequently rather similar to the corresponding entry in another dictionary
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    'An engaging, provocative and at times amusing examination of English dictionaries and their history. Lexicographers will not agree with points in Professor Dixon's program for a new sort of dictionary, but they would go amiss if they ignore him completely.' Jim Rader, Senior Editor, Merriam-Webster, Inc.

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2018
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108433341
    • length: 272 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.39kg
    • contains: 1 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Prologue: the work in advance
    1. How the language is made up
    2. What a dictionary needs to do
    3. Semantic set: finish, cease, and stop
    4. Explaining hard words
    5. Putting everything in
    6. Semantic set: big and little, large and small
    7. Spreading wings
    8. Semantic organisation
    9. Semantic set: fast, quick, rapid, swift, slow, and speed
    10. No need to keep re-inventing the wheel
    11. The nineteenth century
    12. Semantic set: want, wish (for), and desire
    13. The role of grammar
    14. Standing still
    15. The way forward.

  • Author

    R. M. W. Dixon, James Cook University, North Queensland
    R. M. W. Dixon is Professor and Deputy Director of the Language and Culture Research Centre at James Cook University, North Queensland and a Fellow of the British Academy. His books include Australian Aboriginal words in English; their origin and meaning (2nd ed, 1995); A semantic approach to English grammar (2nd ed, 2005) and Making new words; morphological derivation in English (2014) He is the author of the classic three-volume text Basic linguistic theory (2010–2012), and has published grammars of languages from Amazonia and Fiji, and of several of the original languages of Australia.

Sign In

Please sign in to access your account


Not already registered? Create an account now. ×

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.