The Dictionary of Love was published anonymously in 1753 by Ralph Griffiths, best known as the editor of the Monthly Review, as a guide to the perplexed. It was translated from the original French of J. F. du Radier by John Cleland, the author of Fanny Hill (1750).
The assumption behind the work is that lovers speak a specialized language in which words often have a different sense than in common usage: the meaning is often slippery, ambiguous, and contrary to the literal sense. But because the language of gallantry is also conventional it could be codified and explicated in a dictionary.
The Dictionary itself, however, is a very equivocal production, at once didactic and entertaining, moral and licentious, enlightening and opaque. Definitions and illustrations are often suffused with irony not unlike that employed in the language of love. Readers are deliberately put on their guard.
There were at least eight reprintings, the last in 1824. Over the course of time changes were made as some of potentially offensive entries were dropped and others were modified. This edition, done as a MA thesis at Virginia Tech in 2007, records changes made to the text in the editions of 1777, 1787, and 1795.
A 1776 advertisement for John Bell's edition indicates something of the pretensions of the Dictionary of Love by pairing it with two other translations: La Bruyere's Characters (1688) imitated from the Greek of Theophrastus, and Isabella; or the Rewards of Good Nature an anonymous novel translated from the French by the Grub-street writer Alexander Bicknell.
Newspaper advertisement in Lloyd's Evening Post (1776)