The “King’s English” Dictionary

Here’s an ad from the July 5 1929 edition of the Toronto Daily Star for a dictionary of the English language.

I love the prose in this ad more than words can say. It’s the greatest one-volume universal reference work in existence! There are upwards of 100,000 words in this dictionary! A wealth of illustrations!

And, as the ad helpfully points out, somebody at the University of London thinks that this dictionary is almost as useful as the New Oxford Dictionary – but, the new Oxford costs $200 for ten volumes, whereas this single-volume publication can be yours for $1.50 down and eight monthly payments of $1.00!

This blog has run across British Books before – later in 1929, the firm offered a one-volume collection of William Shakespeare’s works. The Toronto branch of the firm remained in existence up until somewhere between 1936 and 1939.

I went looking for information on the “King’s English” dictionary. It turned out that it had been around a while: there was apparently an edition of the dictionary in 1900, and more than one edition of the dictionary in the 1920s, including one published in 1920.

The search also revealed, to my great joy, that the 1920 edition of the “King’s English” dictionary was available for free download as a PDF document; some kind soul had digitized the copy on file at the University of California, Berkeley, and had made it available on the Internet Archive. So I downloaded it – it is 1344 pages, and takes up over 145 megabytes of space. But I have lots of space, and an unlimited data plan from my Internet service provider, so why not?

Here’s the title page for the book, if you’re curious:

The authors appear to be reputable people with one or more university degrees or honorifics, which I guess is good. Here’s the table of contents:

Here’s a sample page of dictionary definitions:

From this, I just learned that “molendinaceous” means “like the sails of a windmill”. Now you know!

The page after this in the dictionary was illustrations of the latest developments in motor transport:

On the whole, this appears to have been a useful, if somewhat dry, reference work. Whether it was worth $1.50 down and eight payments of $1.00 is an open question – $9.50 in 1929 is the equivalent of $145.60 in today’s money – but I am assuming that the buyers of such a book would have a certain amount of disposable income available to them and were interested in spending it on something solid and British.

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