As English evolves, some of our history is omitted from dictionaries

Have you ever looked up an unfamiliar word, only to find it wasn’t in the dictionary? Did you turn to an “unabridged” dictionary, and discover that it really didn’t include every word? A blog post at dictionary.com asks whether archaic words should be omitted from dictionaries.

Are the Federalist Papers obsolete? How about Shakespeare? Should these be removed from libraries and the internet because they’re archaic? As long as people are reading anything written hundreds of years ago, they’ll need definitions of words used hundreds of years ago.

Of course, a pocket or desk dictionary must necessarily delete old words to make room for new. But an unabridged dictionary should live up to its name, and an electronic dictionary is the only unabridged dictionary most of us have access to. Words are part of our history, and historical documents or classic literature won’t do us any good if we don’t know what the words mean.

And yes, I have needed words that weren’t in an unabridged dictionary, and many more that weren’t in an online dictionary. It’s too bad the people who write dictionaries don’t appreciate linguistic history enough to include all of it.