Hardly Harmless Drudgery: Landmarks in English Lexicography

Poster for

Dictionaries are repositories of erudition, monuments to linguistic authority, and cultural battlefields. They’ve been announced with messianic fervor and decried as evidence of cultural collapse. They are works of almost superhuman endurance. As commodities in a fiercely competitive market, they’ve kept publishers afloat for generations. They’ve also sometimes sunk publishers. Many are beautiful objects, products of genuine innovation in typography and book design. 

This exhibition tells the story of English dictionaries and some of the geniuses, sciolists, plagiarists, and obsessives who’ve created them, from the late Middle Ages to the present—and beyond.