JF Ptak Science Books Post
In the history of words and the history of writing them, the history of writing down what words mean came relatively late in the word game. The first dictionary for the English language is difficult to establish–it wasn’t Dr. Johnson’s 1746 effort, as fabulous as it was. There were more than a hundred earlier efforts, the earliest of which may be Robert Cowdry’s A Table Alphabeticall... as the first English dictionary, which was written in 1604. (Its more easy to determine the first American dictionary, Dr. Webster’s, 1828 .) It may be that dictionaries and assemblies of rogue/thieves language appeared well before Johnson, by perhaps as much as 175 years, providing the good readers and listeners in England with a ready tool for understanding “non-standard” (slang) words of the English language (with A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew, by “B.E.”, being the best known of these early works, published in 1698.)
It is interesting to me that in addition to Johnson et al another writer–or rather set of writers–were responsible for the first Johnsonian-first dictionary in German, the Deutsches Wörterbuch by the Brothers Grimm. These are good examples of modernity, though there are earlier examples for other languages–Petrus de Alingio’s manuscript of 1286 and the Catholicon as the first printed alphabetical listing of Latin words appeared very shortly after Gutenberg’s Bible did on the same press. But then these were both many centuries into the use of the language.
And this just to say how much I like the road to words–especially when they come from unexpected places. One fine example of this is the directive below, issued by the headquarters of th Allied Control Commission (“APO No 394") in Rome in the summer of 1944. (This would actually be the American arm of the ACC, which was commission set up by the Allied Powers to deal with the administration of defeated countries at the end of the war. Three weeks after D-Day the end of the war was in sight (Bastogne and Co. not withstanding), though far more so in Italy than just about anywhere else, and so the implementation of governing and occupying plans needed to be established. One of the primary features here was to ensure that the old Fascists not be included in the new Italian governments (along the lines of denazification in Germany, which had a more laissez-faire approach to defining Nazis, especially wealthy and useful ones), and the primary issue in finding and excluding Fascists was to define what was meant by “fascist”1. These are those working guidelines, at least on 25 June 1944.
1. The first use of “fascism” in English reported by the Oxford English Dictionaries occurs in 1921:
1921 19th Cent. July 148 The Fascismo was born in the provinces, where the extremistic menace was stronger.
Other interesting reports of the usage of the word continue in the OED:
1922 Q. Rev. Jan. 148 A section of the Press..now veered completely round to the cause of Fascism. The Fascist terror increased in intensity.
1923 Contemp. Rev. Jan. 44 We do not want Fascismo in this country.
1923 Contemp. Rev. Nov. 557 Fascism in Germany will never be more than one of several factors.
1925 Weekly Westm. Gaz. 10 Jan. 320/2 The outrages which have been associated with Fascism have gradually alienated much of the support which it won two years ago.
1934 tr. K. Heiden's National Socialism xvii. 354 The electoral victories all over Europe with which the Labour Parties have replied to German Fascism.
1936 Discovery Dec. 378/1, I have strongly criticised modern education and the methods of handling youth generally as inculcating excessive respect for authority and thereby conducing to the growth of Fascism.
1939 A. Cobban Dictatorship v. 124 In March 1919..Fascism was still..a revolutionary and socialist movement, hostile to the monarchy, to finance, and to parliamentary government, demanding social reform and workers' control, but separated from the other branches of the socialist movement by its intense nationalism.
And the definition of the word “fascist” from the same year, 1921:
“One of a body of Italian nationalists, which was organized in 1919 to oppose communism in Italy, and, as the partito nazionale fascista, under the leadership of Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), controlled that country from 1922 to 1943; also transf. applied to the members of similar organizations in other countries. Also, a person having Fascist sympathies or convictions; (loosely) a person of right-wing authoritarian views. Hence as adj., of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Fascism or Fascists...”