English Language Resources

A Tuesday Tip: Online resources to help with outdated English words and past usages

Webster's Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1886)

To know your britzskas from your landaus, you can refer to Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1886)

What?! As I was researching the last post on the Thanksgiving Day 1904 Carrie Reinholtz murder/suicide controversy, I came upon a quotation in a newspaper that jumped out at me. That person commented that if Carrie had managed to commit suicide in such an incredible manner, it should go down in history as the most “wonderful” suicide ever. Obviously “wonderful” must have meant something different back then!

According to the modern-day Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “wonderful” means 1) exciting wonder and 2) unusually good. To explain the former meaning, which I assumed had a negative connotation, I referred to an online PDF created by Rutgers University Professor Jack Lynch: A Guide to Eighteenth-Century English Vocabulary, where, on page 21, I found an 18th-century definition for “wonderful”: Amazing, unusual, noteworthy, but not necessarily good. Professor Lynch’s 21-page “nuts-and-bots” guide may help you quickly decipher some of the past usages of words that you come across. That definition of “wonderful” had obviously lingered through the 19th century and at least until 1904, when Carrie’s suicide was so described. When did the meaning take a turn away from the negative?

Definition for a camelopard!

Ever heard of a camelopard? Refer to Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1886)

To figure something like that out, one can take advantage of numerous online old 19th- and early 20th-century dictionaries:

So between 1911 and 1919, the definition took a turn, at least it appears that way to me. (English language experts, please feel free to opine for I am no scholar, by any means!)

Illustrations of punishments.

Illustrations of punishments. Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language – 1886 – it’s all bad but , apart from the guillotine, that bastinado looks particularly unpleasant!

Heading back to the 18th century & early 19th century, more excellent online resources are available (and these are all recommended by Professor Lynch in his aforementioned guide):

In closing, I’ll mention the most vast resource I have come across when it comes to English and any other language for that matter: Lexigolos, a website belonging to Xavier Negre of Marseille, Provence, France. Lexigolos’ tagline is “words and wonders of the world”.

Here, you’ll find lots of resources for Late Modern English. And, if you want to move beyond that topic, Lexigolos can help you run wild through the past and present of over 100 of the world’s languages. Just check out their home page and click away.

Webster's Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1886) offers interesting insight into what was once a very major mode of travel

Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1886) offers interesting insight into what was once a very major mode of travel

Wondering about some of those first names?

I’ve always wondered where great-aunt Lavinia’s name came from. (Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language – 1886)

Those wanting to pony up some dough can purchase or subscribe online to the Oxford English Dictionary (free 30-day trial offered; subscriptions for $29.95/month or $295/year) and/or Merriam Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (free 14-day trial offered; subscriptions for $4.95/month or $29.95/year).

With that, I shall wish you Godspeed! Feel free to share any great online resources you’ve come across!


Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language – 1886

Categories: English Language Resources | Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress.com.

Spared & Shared 2

-- rescuing history from old letters one page at a time

Parrotfish Journey

I travel , YOU should too...


In The Beginning Man Tried Ascending To Heaven via The Tower Of Babel. Now He Tries To Elevate His Existence Using Hallucinogenic Drugs. And, Since The 20th Century, He Continually Voyages Into Outer Space Using Spacecrafts. Prayer Thru Christ Is The Only Way To Reach Heaven.

London, Hollywood

I'm Dominic Wells, an ex-Time Out Editor. I used to write about films. Now I write them.

Uma Familia Portuguesa

A história da nossa família

Trkingmomoe's Blog

Low Budget Meals for the New Normal

The Good, the Bad and the Italian

food/films/families and more

dvn ms kmz time travel

This is all about my travels to the past... my reflections and musings about yesteryear, as I find the stories of a people passed away and learn how to tell them.


350 years of Newark in verse 1666-2016

Russian Universe

Understanding Russia with a Russian

Bulldog Travels

Everything and Nothing Plus Some Pretty Photos

Dances with Wools

knitting, spinning, dyeing, and related fiber arts

Life After Caregiving

On caregivers, faith, family, and writing...

Why'd You Eat That?

Food Folklore for the everyday scholar. These are the stories behind the foods we eat.

Cooking without Limits

Food Photography & Recipes

Circulating Now

from the historical collections of the world's largest biomedical library

The Pioneer Woman

Plowing through Life in the Country...One Calf Nut at a Time

Almost Home

Genealogy Research and Consulting

Old Bones Genealogy of New England

Genealogy and Family History Research


Reflections Concerning Art, Nature, and the Affairs of Humankind (also some gardening anecdotes)

Map of Time | A Trip Into the Past

Navigating Through Someplace Called History

Out Here Studying Stones

Cemeteries & Genealogy


family research ... discover your ancestry

the Victorian era

Did I misplace my pince-nez again? Light reading on the 19th century.

"Greatest Generation" Life Lessons

This is the story of an ordinary family, trying to live an ordinary life during an extraordinary time frame, and the lessons they learn through experience.

The Civil War Gazette

Keeping the stories alive from the American Civil War

Moore Genealogy

Fun With Genealogy

Meeting my family


Shaking the tree

musings on the journey towards knowing and sharing my family's stories

Among My Branches

Exploring My Kernan, Lapham, Hamilton, & Sebok Ancestries One Branch at a Time

A Hundred Years Ago

Food and More

Scots Roots

Helping you dig up your Scots roots.

Root To Tip

Not just a list of names and dates

Food Perestroika

Adventures in Eastern Bloc Cuisine

My Aunt the WAC

Marian Solomon's midlife transition from the farm to the Women's Army Corps (WACs)

Being Em | From Busan to America

this journey is my own, but i'm happy to share.

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

The Daily Online Genealogy Newsletter

Irish in the American Civil War

Exploring Irish Emigration & Irish Involvement in the American Civil War


Genealogy: Looking For "Dead People"!

Cemeteries of Brunswick, Maine

To live in the hearts we leave behind, is not to die. ~ Thomas Campbell

Heart of a Southern Woman

A snapshot of life one blog post at a time.


age is just a (biggish) number) NUMBER

The People of Pancho

At Play In The Archive


Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea

Rose of Sharon Healing

Healing for the Nations

DNAeXplained - Genetic Genealogy

Discovering Your Ancestors - One Gene at a Time

%d bloggers like this: