The Monson manuscript of the Catholicon Anglicum, MS. 168
The Monson manuscript of the Catholicon Anglicum, MS. 168

The Catholicon Anglicum is an English-to-Latin bilingual dictionary compiled in the late 15th century.


Writing and publishing

The Catholicon Anglicum was written in 1483.[1] Its author was anonymous at the time of its writing in the 15th century, and remains unknown to the present day. From the dialect of English used, the author might have been a native of Yorkshire in the north of England.[2]

The book was republished by the Camden Society in 1882.[3] The dictionary was edited by Sidney Herrtage prior to its republication.[4]

Current status

Two copies of the dictionary are known to be still in existence, only one of which is complete. One of the dictionaries resides in the British Library; some of the leaves in this copy are missing.[5] It has been edited from the manuscript no. 168 and has been collated with the manuscript additional no. 15562. The British Museum acquired it from the library of Lord Monson[6] and it became Additional MS. 89074.[7] The British Library is a successor organisation to the Museum, becoming a separate entity in 1973, when the Catholicon Anglicum became part of its collection rather than that of the museum. The second known copy, and only complete example, is held in a private collection.[5]


In 2013, the complete copy of the Catholicon Anglicum was sold to a buyer outside of the United Kingdom for £92,500, so an export ban was subsequently placed on the book by then-culture minister Ed Vaizey after a recommendation from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England.[8] The purchase price was eventually matched by the British Library, which purchased the book in March 2014, shortly before the expiration of the ban.


The Catholicon Anglicum is notable for being one of the earliest dictionaries in the English language.[9] The Oxford English Dictionary stated that many important words in the English language such as diphthong were first attested in the Catholicon Anglicum.[10]

The importance of the Catholicon Anglicum has been described by Ed Vaizey:[11] "The manuscript is of outstanding significance for the history of the English language, which is fundamental to the identity and life of our nation."

Christopher Wright from the RCEWA has said:[12]

This rare survival of a 15th-century English-Latin word list is one of the vital first steps on the road to the English dictionary as we know it today. Its anonymous author, possibly a Yorkshireman on the basis of some dialect words included, provides an invaluable witness to the English language as it existed in the second half of the 15th Century, and can claim an honourable place in the roll of famous lexicographers that stretches through Johnson and Murray into our own age.

— Christopher Wright

See also


  1. ^ "Export bar on dictionary from 1483 - The Star". Archived from the original on 2014-01-10. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  2. ^ "500 year-old dictionary reveals Yorkshire as they spoke it". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  3. ^ An Eight-century Latin-anglo-saxon Glossary. CUP Archive. 1890.
  4. ^ Wikisource:A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Sheffield/Catholicon Anglicum
  5. ^ a b "Time up on export bar for 500-year-old dictionary". BBC News. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-17.
  6. ^ Holdings: Catholicon anglicum. Camden Society (Series), MS. 1882. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  7. ^ "British Library purchases the Catholicon Anglicum". 21 March 2014.
  8. ^ "Last bid to keep 1483 dictionary in UK". 7 January 2014. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  9. ^ "The Study: Drudging Harmlessly". 8 June 2012. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  10. ^ "Diphthong voted best word ever". Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  11. ^ "Export bar on dictionary from 1483". Yorkshire Evening Post. Archived from the original on 2014-01-10. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
  12. ^ "ArtsCouncil - Press office home - Press Releases - Lost for words: rare UK dictionary at risk of export". Archived from the original on 2014-01-10. Retrieved 2014-02-05.