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6 Alternative Dictionaries Every Bookshelf Needs

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It can be hard to realize, nowadays, that there is a life beyond Noah Webster's dictionary of the English language (if you're American) and the Oxford English Dictionary (if you're British). But natural selection and evolution in the several centuries that English dictionaries have been extant have resulted in a narrowing of the field of word collections down to the major two, accepted as the basis of language for pretty much the entire English-speaking population of the world.

Of course, just because some dictionaries have fallen by the wayside in the years since the world's first dictionary doesn't mean that they weren't any good. Here are six forgotten dictionaries that ought to be lining your bookshelf (or loaded up in your internet browser). 

1. A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811)

You know how one of the first things you did as a child when you received your first dictionary was to go to the dirty words and look up their meanings? Captain Francis Grose decided 300 years ago to make that whole process easier for you.

In 1811, Grose published his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. Grose's dictionary captured the language of the streets in 1811 London, which was often rude and coarse. In many ways he prefigured many of the linguistic studies today that seek to capture speech as it is spoken, rather than as it ought to be.

2. Reverse Dictionary

Reverse Dictionaries are a curious breed, more like a thesaurus than anything else. The Reader's Digest edition of the reverse dictionary claims it helps "to find the words on the tip of your tongue," allowing you to look up a word in the same area that you do know, and find a word in a similar sphere of knowledge that might be closer to what you want. 

3. A Table Alphebeticall (1604)

Robert Cawdrey wasn't initially credited on the title page of the first run of his dictionary, printed in 1604 and sold by printer Edmund Weaver "at the great North door of Paules Church," but the priest ought to have been less chary about being identified: his contribution to language was enormous.

Cawdrey was one of the first people, if not the very first, to try and define what words meant. Before then there was no real need to codify meaning into words; Cawdrey, in fact, in his definition of define, doesn't even mention that words can be defined—for him it is only "things" that require definition. Yet his work would prefigure some of our most important dictionaries.

4. Walker's Rhyming Dictionary (1775)

Songwriting and poetry can be difficult; just ask William McGonagall, who tried his hand at poetry and ended up producing some of the worst verse known to man. Rhyming poetry is even more difficult. John Walker, a sometimes actor, compiled and published his rhyming dictionary only 20 years after Samuel Johnson created his totemic list of language, but it was quite different.

For one thing, it wasn't in alphabetical order. Well, it was, but not in order of the first letter of the word. Because rhymes fall on the final syllable of a word, Walker arranged his in alphabetical order based on the final letters of the word. Thus "idea" (aedi) follows right after "panacea" (aecanap) in the A section right at the start of the dictionary. 

5. The Dictionary of Non-Words (2010)

In 2010, student Luke Ngakane approached the Oxford English Dictionary to ask for access to a secret vault the OED keeps. Inside the vault are more than 50 filing cabinets filled with 6"x4” index cards of words.

Though it may seem surprising to learn that the OED keeps its words on index cards, that’s not the unusual thing (even today, the people behind the dictionary use paper copies for their draft definitions). What Ngakane wanted to see was the contents of the cards—because in the vault are the words that don’t make the dictionary. According to Ngakane, that includes words such as “dringle” (the watermark left on wood caused by a glass of liquid) and “percuperate” (prepare for the possibility of being ill). Ngakane etched the words onto a metal plate and then printed them for his graphic design degree. [Note: Ben Zimmer of Visual Thesaurus poured cold water on the "secret vault" element of this story, which you can read here.]

6. Wye’s Dictionary of Improbable Words (2009)

How many words do you know that are either all consonants or all vowels? Craig Conley trawled the English language and found 4000 examples gathered together in Wye’s Dictionary of Improbable Words. From B-Z (for the consonant-only section, beginning with “b’chtsch”) and A,E,I,O,U and Y (for the vowel-only section, starting with “a i-eee ai-eeee”), there’s proof that sometimes our language doesn’t quite make sense, and that it’s possible to form words without some of our alphabet’s most important letters.

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Live Smarter
5 Tips for Becoming A Morning Person
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You’ve probably heard the term circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that influences your daily routine: when to eat, when to sleep, and when to wake up. Our biological clocks are, to some extent, controlled by genetics. This means that some people are natural morning people while others are night owls by design. However, researchers say the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle, which is good news if you want to train yourself to wake up earlier.

In addition to squeezing more hours out of the day, there are plenty of other good reasons to resist hitting the snooze button, including increased productivity. One survey found that more than half of Americans say they feel at their best between 5 a.m. and noon. These findings support research from biologist Christopher Randler, who determined that earlier risers are happier and more proactive about goals, too.

If you love the idea of waking up early to get more done, but you just can't seem to will yourself from out under the covers, here are five effective tips that might help you roll out of bed earlier.


If you’re a die-hard night owl, chances are you’re not going to switch to a morning lark overnight. Old habits are hard to break, but they’re less challenging if you approach them realistically.

“Wake up early in increments,” Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker at Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis suggests. “If you normally wake up at 9:00 a.m., set the alarm to 8:30 a.m. for a week, then 8:00 a.m., then 7:30 a.m.”

Waking up three hours earlier can feel like a complete lifestyle change, but taking it 30 minutes at a time will make it a lot easier to actually stick to the plan. Gradually, you’ll become a true morning person, just don’t try to force it to happen overnight.


Your body releases endorphins when you exercise, so jumping on the treadmill or taking a run around the block is a great way to start the day on a high note. Also, according to the National Sleep Foundation, exercising early in the morning can mean you get a better overall sleep at night:

“In fact, people who work out on a treadmill at 7:00 a.m. sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber than those who exercise at later times that day.”

If you don’t have much time in the morning, an afternoon workout is your second best bet. The Sleep Foundation says aerobic afternoon workouts can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often throughout the night. “This may be because exercise raises your body’s temperature for about four to five hours,” they report. After that, your body’s core temperature decreases, which encourages it to switch into sleep mode.


Whether it’s a noisy street or a bright streetlight, your bedroom environment might be making it difficult for you to sleep throughout the night, which can make waking up early challenging, as you haven’t had enough rest. There are, however, a few changes you can make to optimize your room for a good night’s sleep.

“Keep your bedroom neat and tidy,” Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based doctor of psychology on staff as an expert in sleep hygiene at Seasons Recovery Centers in Malibu, suggests. “Waking up to clutter and chaos only makes it more tempting to crawl back in bed.”

Depending on what needs to be improved, you might consider investing in some slumber-friendly items that can help you sleep through the night, including foam earplugs (make sure to use a vibrating alarm), black-out drapes, light-blocking window decals, and a cooling pillow

Another simple option? Ditch the obnoxious sound of a loud, buzzing alarm.

“One great way to adapt to rising earlier is to have an alarm that is a pleasing sound to you versus an annoying one,” Dr. Irwin says. “There are many choices now, whether on your smartphone or in a radio or a freestanding apparatus.”


Getting up early starts the night before, and there are a few things you should do before hitting the sack at night.

“Set an alarm to fall asleep,” Torgerson says. “Having a set bedtime helps you stay responsible to yourself, instead of letting yourself get caught up in a book or Netflix and avoid going to sleep.”

Torgerson adds that practicing yoga or meditation before bed can help relax your mind and body, too. This way, your mind isn’t bouncing from thought to thought in a flurry before you go to bed. If you find yourself feeling anxious before bed, it might help to write in a journal. This way, you can get these nagging thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

Focus on relaxing at night and stay away from not just exercise, but mentally stimulating activities, too. If watching the news gets your blood boiling, for example, you probably want to turn it off an hour or so before bedtime.


Light has a immense effect on your circadian rhythm—whether it’s the blue light from your phone as you scroll through Instagram, or the bright sunlight of being outdoors on your lunch break. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists compared the sleep quality of 27 subjects who worked in windowless environments with 22 subjects who were exposed to significantly more natural light during the day.

“Workers in windowless environments reported poorer scores than their counterparts on two SF-36 dimensions—role limitation due to physical problems and vitality—as well as poorer overall sleep quality," the study concluded. "Compared to the group without windows, workers with windows at the workplace had more light exposure during the workweek, a trend toward more physical activity, and longer sleep duration as measured by actigraphy.”

Thus, exposing yourself to bright light during the day may actually help you sleep better at night, which will go a long way toward helping you wake up refreshed in the morning.

Conversely, too much blue light can actually disturb your sleep schedule at night. This means you probably want to limit your screen time as your bedtime looms closer.

Finally, once you do get into the habit of waking up earlier, stick to that schedule on the weekends as much as possible. The urge to sleep in is strong, but as Torgerson says, “you won't want your body and brain to reacclimate to sleeping in and snoozing.”

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Christopher Camp, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0
8 Defining Facts About Jane Goodall
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Christopher Camp, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

Jane Goodall was still a young woman when her research changed the course of scientific history. Of her discovery that chimpanzees make and use tools—an ability previously believed to belong only to humans—paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey famously said, "Now we must redefine 'tool,' redefine 'man,' or accept chimpanzees as humans."


Jane met her first chimpanzee on her first birthday. From that day forward, the stuffed ape named Jubilee accompanied the little girl on all her adventures, inspiring the love of animals that would one day shift our views on animal intelligence.

Today, Goodall gives talks on animal welfare with the assistance of a stuffed monkey named Mr. H (shown above) and a cow named Cow, both gifts from her fans. "Cow has worked really hard," Goodall told Mosaic. "She has created I don't know how many vegetarians."


Goodall's first steps into Gombe Stream National Park in 1960 were extraordinary for many reasons. The 26-year-old was only the second researcher to attempt to study chimpanzees in the wild, and she had no one with her aside from her mother and an assistant. She also had no formal scientific training—a fact that likely enabled her many breakthroughs. Unbound by preconceived notions of what animal research should be, the young scientist got close to her subjects, sat down, and paid attention.


Jane Goodall giving a talk in ceremonial university robes.
Peter Broster, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

Goodall became Dr. Goodall in 1966 when she received her Ph.D. in ethology (animal behavior) from the University of Cambridge. Since then, she's earned more diplomas than most walls could hold, with honorary degrees from nearly 40 universities in 15 different countries.


Dr. Goodall is also a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a UN Ambassador for Peace, and the recipient of countless awards and honors for her scientific, humanitarian, and animal welfare work. For a brief period, during her marriage to wildlife photographer Baron Hugo van Lawick, she was also Baroness Jane van Lawick-Goodall.


A baby chimpanzee.
Roland, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Historically, the scientific establishment has not taken kindly to upstarts and outsiders. Or women, for that matter. In the beginning, many established researchers held Goodall's unusual approach and lack of university pedigree against her. They found her methods soft and problematic—Goodall named her research subjects instead of giving them ID numbers, which caused a scandal—and some went so far as to suggest that the tool-using chimps had been trained. Over time, her body of research grew so compelling that her supporters outnumbered her detractors.


"She could look a challenge/right between the eyes …"


In the 2001 Wild Thornberrys episode "The Trouble With Darwin," Goodall appeared, as herself, to help Eliza save chimpanzees from greedy poachers.


Jane Goodall in a crowd.
Daniel Epstein, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

Goodall returned from the field in the 1980s, but her life's work had barely begun. For the last three decades, she's been on the road more than 300 days a year, giving talks and leading initiatives to improve the lives of chimpanzees, apes, and all animals in captivity and in the wild. With her urging, in 2015, the National Institutes of Health announced that it would retire the last of its chimpanzee research subjects.


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