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The Collation

Click-clack and crocodile tears: an annotated Elizabethan dictionary

If dictionaries are still on your mind after reading in The Collation and elsewhere about the 1580 copy of John Baret’s Alvearie owned by George Koppelman and Dan Wechsler, then here’s another tri-lingual annotated dictionary to ponder: the intensively-annotated Folger copy of John Higgins’s Huloets dictionarie newelye corrected, amended, set in order and enlarged… by which you may finde the Latin or Frenche, or anye English woorde you will (London, 1572).

Title page of Folger copy of John Higgin's Huloets dictionarie (STC 13941). Click to enlarge

Title page of Folger copy of John Higgins’s Huloets dictionarie (STC 13941). Click to enlarge

The annotations on the title page are hard to make out, but include, at the top, a verse from Virgil’s sixth eclogue, in both Latin and English, exactly as it appears in “To the Reader” in Richard Knolles’s The general history of the Turks (London, 1603). Helpfully, the annotator prefaced the English translation with the word “Knoll.” It’s also findable in the Union First Line Index of English Verse


The last variant on “Much Ado” reminds me that the practice of applying proverbs to the titles of plays is itself an outgrowth of the proverb collecting, commonplacing culture the produced this book and its annotations. We are not accustomed to seeing what we would now call “reference works” being used actively in the creative process, but I think that practice is widespread. What I’d like to understand better, with the help of this and other annotated dictionaries, is the “annotation pathway”– the underlying sense of connection between what is contained in the printed text and the set of examples or variants that are added by the reader. Is the annotator trying to exhaust the meanings contained in the headword entry, to show his or her capacity to multiply those meanings (copia), to extend them to new examples, or to competitively show that the printed references are incomplete? Is this a record keeping exercise connected to one’s systematic reading habits? I think there’s a lot to learn about themental and cultural processes that guide the work of annotators who use dictionaries (or thesaurii, proverb collections, commonplace books). John Considine’s work on early modern dictionaries seems crucial in this respect.

Michael Witmore — May 14, 2014


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