Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Usual English Words (1604)

From the source of:
Electronic text edited by:

Index to Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall


Cawdrey's Work, and the Development of the Dictionary in Early Modern England

Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall, first printed in 1604, is generally regarded to be the first fully developed representative of the monolingual dictionary in English. For each of the 2543 headwords contained in its first edition, Cawdrey provided a concise definition -- the standard entry rarely exceeded more than a few words, usually synonyms -- and he marked those words thought to be of French or Greek origin; in some cases, he also marked those words which were a "kind of" a larger group. Cawdrey added material to each of its three later editions (1609, 1613, 1617), ultimately to define over 3200 words, but did not vary his method. While small and unsophisticated by today's standards, the Table was the largest dictionary of its type at the time and, when viewed in the full context of Early Modern English lexicography, it exemplifies the movement from words lists and glosses to dictionaries which more closely resemble those of today.

Cawdrey, as he notes in the epistle, gathered the contents of the Table over a period of some years, likely beginning during his first appointment as schoolmaster in 1563. His interest was in defining "hard vsual English wordes," words that might challenge the contemporary, unskilled reader. While he does deal with neologisms and "inkhorn" terms, and while the Table's epistle and introductory passage do address concerns about the nature of language as it was currently being used, the matter of this dictionary suggests that Cawdrey's chief concern was didactic; he hoped to provide the meanings and fixed forms of the many difficult words that would be encountered both in the writing and the speech of the time. For today's reader, the Table provides insights into Early Modern life, as well as valuable linguistic and lexicographic information.

In putting together the Table's first edition, Cawdrey borrowed entries and methods from a number of diverse sources. He looked to several Latin-English dictionaries, including Thomas Cooper's Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae (1565) and Thomas Thomas's Dictionarium Linguae Latinae et Anglicanae (1587). Among popular didactic texts of the time, he found Richard Mulcaster's Elementarie (1582), Edmund Coote's English Schoole-Maister (1596), Peter Bale's The Writing Schoolmaster (1590), Timothy Bright's Characterie (1588), and William Fulke's Goodly Gallery . . . of Meteors (1571) to be of value. He also turned to glosses of religious, legal, scientific, and literary texts for some of his material; these include Arthur Golding's An exposition of certein woords, which was attached to Neil Hemmingsen's A Postill, or Exposition of the Gospels (1569), John Rastell's Exposition of Certaine Difficult and Obscure Wordes . . . of the Lawes of this Realme (1598), A. M.'s glossary to his translation of Gaebelkhover's Artzneybuch (1599), Gregory Martin's Explication of Certaine Wordes in William Fulke's reprinting of the Rheims' New Testament (1600), and Thomas Speght's glossary, entitled The old and obscure words of Chaucer, explaned, to his edition of The Works of . . . Geffrey Chaucer (1600). Later editions of Cawdrey's Table looked to these works and beyond for additional material.

His reliance on these works, however, is not such that we should consider Cawdrey merely a compiler of the information of others. Rather, though his work is somewhat of an amalgam of previously-existing works, he brings to the Table the rationale of a lexicographer concerned with producing a unified, systematic, and usable work. This is evident in his method of compilation, which involved expansion and contraction in definitions, some regularization of headwords and words in the definitions, and a standardization of definition form. His sources are clearly reflected in his work but, for the most part, Cawdrey has put his imprint upon them.

Cawdrey's Life

Little is known about the life of Robert Cawdrey, but a brief biography can be sketched from the details which do exist. He was born ca. 1538 and, though lacking university training, he became schoolmaster at Oakham, in the English county of Rutland, in 1563. Two years later, in 1565, he was ordained deacon. Further promotion soon followed: in 1570 he was advanced in the priesthood, and on 22 October 1571 he became rector of South Luffenham.

Though he would hold this post for over 15 years, his puritanical leanings would prove troublesome for him. In 1576, he was charged with not reading the state-approved homilies; the next year, his service was again under scrutiny, and in 1578 he was suspended briefly for solemnizing a matrimony, a rite for which he was not qualified. His return, after only several months of suspension, was hastened by a promise of future good behaviour, but in 1586 Cawdrey was brought before his bishop on charges stemming, again, from his lack of canonical obedience.

These last charges would occupy Cawdrey until 1591 and, though he had powerful allies, the charges would ultimately lead Cawdrey to lose his rectory as well as his ministerial authority. With his living removed, and in the company of his benefactors, the Harrington family, Cawdrey once again became a schoolmaster. Sometime later, he would put the Table in the form of its first printing with the assistance of his son Thomas, who was also a schoolmaster.

In addition to the Table, Cawdrey is responsible for two other works. While rector in 1580, he wrote a tract entitled A Short and Fruitefull Treatise of the Profit of Catechising; this he augmented in 1604. He also compiled A Treasurie or Store-House of Similes (1600, 1609).

Notes Regarding This Text

This electronic text of Cawdrey's Table is a transcription of the 1604 edition. Alterations are minimal and primarily involve the modernisation of some aspects of the Early Modern English writing system -- forms of s, r, ligatures, and brevigraphs -- in accordance with current scholarly editorial procedures. Cawdrey's notation for words thought to be of French origin () is here represented by an ASCII string [fr].

Note: This text exists in two formats, each in its own file. One contains simply the text in HTML for viewing and perusal with HTML client software, the other contains the text marked up with COCOA-style tags in square brackets, [ ]; the text tagged with COCOA tags can be downloaded and used in text analysis packages such as TACT if the square brackets are changed to angle brackets.

Tags in the COCOA text.

Cawdrey's Table, Tagged in HTML

ATable Alphabeticall, con-
teyning and teaching the true
writing, and vnderstanding of hard
vsuall English wordes, borrowed from
the Hebrew, Greeke, Latine,
or French. &c.

With the interpretation thereof by
plaine English words, gathered for the benefit &
helpe of Ladies, Gentlewomen, or any other
vnskilfull persons.

Whereby they may the more easilie
and better vnderstand many hard English
wordes, which they shall heare or read in
Scriptures, Sermons, or elswhere, and also
be made able to vse the same aptly

Legere, et non intelligere, neglegere est.
As good not read, as not to vnderstand.

Printed by I. R. for Edmund Wea-
uer, & are to be sold at his shop at the great
North doore of Paules Church.

To the right honourable,
Worshipfull, vertuous, & godlie
Ladies, the Lady Hastings, the Lady
Dudley, the Lady Mountague, the Ladie
Wingfield, and the Lady Leigh, his Chri-
stian friends, R. C. wisheth great prosperitie in this
life, with increase of grace, and peace from GOD
our Father, through Iesus Christ our Lord and
onely Sauiour.

BY this Table (right Honourable & Wor-
shipfull) strangers that blame our tongue
of difficultie, and vncertaintie may heere-
by plainly see, & better vnderstand those
things, which they haue thought hard. Heerby
also the true Orthography, that is, the true
writing of many hard English words, borrowed
from the Greeke, Latine & French, and how to
know one from the other, with the interpretati-
on thereof by plaine English words, may be lear-
ned and knowne. And children heerby may be
prepared for the vnderstanding of a great num-
ber of Latine words: which also will bring much
delight & iudgement to others, by the vse of this
little worke. Which worke, long ago for the most
part, was gathered by me, but lately augmented
by my sonne
Thomas, who now is Schoolemai-
ster in London.

Now when I had called to mind (right hono-
rable and Worshipfull) the great kindnesse, and
bountifulnes, which I found in that vertuous &
godly Lady, Lucie Harington, your Honours
and Worships mother, and my especiall friend in
the Lord. When, and at such time as the right
Sir Iames Harington Knight,
your Ladiships brother was my scholler, (and
now my singuler benefactor) when I taught the
Grammer schoole at
Okeham in the County of
Rutland: In consideration whereof, and also
for that I acknowledge my selfe much beholding
and indebted to the most of you, since this time,
(beeing all naturall sisters) I am bold to make
you all ioyntly patrons heereof, and vnder your
names to publish this simple worke. And thus
praying, that God of his vnspeakeable mercies,
will blesse both your Honors and Worships, I doe
with all good wishes to you all, with all yours, as
to mine owne soule, humbly take my leaue. Co-
uentry this xxvij. of Iune.

Your Honors and Worships, euer
ready in Christ Iesus to be com-
maunded, Robert Cawdrey.

SVch as by their place and calling,
(but especially Preachers) as haue oc-
casion to speak publiquely before the
ignorant people, are to bee admoni-
shed, that they neuer affect any strange
ynckhorne termes, but labour to speake so
as is commonly receiued, and so as the most
ignorant may well vnderstand them: ney-
ther seeking to be ouer fine or curious, nor
yet liuing ouer carelesse, vsing their speech,
as most men doe, & ordering their wits, as
the fewest haue done. Some men seek so far
for outlandish English, that they forget al-
together their mothers language, so that if
some of their mothers were aliue, they were
not able to tell, or vnderstand what they say,
and yet these fine English Clearks, will say
they speak in their mother tongue; but one
might well charge them, for counterfeyting
the Kings English. Also, some far iournied
gentlemen, at their returne home, like as they
loue to go in forraine apparrell, so they will
pouder their talke with ouer-sea language.
He that commeth lately out of France, will
talk French English, and neuer blush at the

matter. Another chops in with English Ita-
lianated, and applyeth the Italian phrase to
our English speaking, the which is, as if an
Orator, that professeth to vtter his minde in
plaine Latine, would needs speake Poetrie,
& far fetched colours of strange antiquitie.
Doth any wise man think, that wit resteth in
strange words, or els standeth it not in whol-
some matter, and apt declaring of a mans
mind? Do we not speak, because we would
haue other to vnderstand vs? or is not the
tongue giuen for this end, that one might
know what another meaneth? Therefore,
either wee must make a difference of Eng-
lish, & say, some is learned English, & other-
some is rude English, or the one is Court
talke, the other is Country-speech, or els we
must of necessitie banish all affected Rhe-
torique, and vse altogether one manner of
language. Those therefore that will auoyde
this follie, and acquaint themselues with the
plainest & best kind of speech, must seeke
from time to time such words as are commonlie
receiued, and such as properly may expresse
in plaine manner, the whole conceit of their
mind. And looke what words wee best vn-
derstand, and know what they meane, the

same should soonest be spoken, and first ap-
plied, to the vttrance of our purpose. Ther-
fore for this end, foure things would chiefly
be obserued in the choise of wordes. First,
that such words as wee vse, should be pro-
per vnto the tongue wherein we speake. A-
gaine, that they be plaine for all men to per-
ceiue. Thirdly, that they be apt and meete,
most properly to set out the matter. Fourth-
lie, that words translated, from one signifi-
cation to another, (called of the Grecians
Tropes, ) be vsed to beautifie the sentence, as
precious stones are set in a ring, to commend
the gold. Now such are thought apt words,
that properly agree vnto that thing, which
they signifie, and plainly expresse the nature
of the same. Therefore, they that haue re-
gard of their estimation and credite, do wa-
rily speake, & with choise, vtter words most
apt for their purpose. In waightie causes,
graue wordes are thought most needfull,
that the greatnes of the matter, may the ra-
ther appeare, in the vehemencie of theyr
talke. So likewise of other, like order must
be taken. Albeit some, not onely doe not
obserue this kind of aptnesse, but also they
fall into much fondnes, by vsing words out

of place, and applying them to diuers mat-
ters, without all discretion.
If thou be desirous (gentle Reader) right-
ly and readily to vnderstand, and to profit
by this Table, and such like, then thou must
learne the Alphabet, to wit, the order of the
Letters as they stand, perfecty without
booke, and where euery Letter standeth: as
(b) neere the beginning, (n) about the mid-
dest, and (t) toward the end. Nowe if the
word, which thou art desirous to finde, be-
gin with (a) then looke in the beginning of
this Table, but if with (v *) looke towards
the end. Againe, if thy word beginne with
(ca) looke in the beginning of the letter (c)
but if with (cu) then looke toward the end
of that letter. And so of all the rest. &c.
And further vnderstand, that whereas all
such words as are deriued & drawne from the
Greek, are noted with this letter, (g) . And
the French are marked thus [fr] but such
words as are deriued from the latin, haue no
marke at all.

A Table Alphabeticall,

contayning and teaching the true
writing, and vnderstanding of hard
vsuall English words. &c.