Dictionary of Love

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The Dictionary of Love
Edited by Emily K. Davis

Center for Applied Technologies in the Humanties

Publication History

The Dictionary of Love made its British debut in 1753, twelve years after Jean-François Dreux du Radier's Dictionnaire de l'amour appeared on French bookshelves. Publisher Ralph Griffiths put a two-shilling price tag on the "pocket-size[d]" book and commented in his Monthly Review,

its design is to rally and expose the common-place love-phrases, modes of address, &c. as used by the gay and gallant of both sexes. With what humour, spirit, or elegance [the author] has done this, the reader will discover, from the few following explanations, selected from as many different parts of the book....(464-465)

Originally published anonymously, this English version of the DOL would not be ascribed to author John Cleland until the twentieth century when Roger Lonsdale discovered a hand-written footnote in which Griffiths makes the disclosure ("New Attributions to John Cleland," 1979). According to Lonsdale, Cleland omitted some definitions in his translation and added some new entries of his own, which are "usually somewhat less cynical and more genuinely pessimistic about modern decadence than those translated faithfully" (286). The DOL, in comparison to some of Cleland's other works, sold fairly well (Lonsdale 287).

There were several reprintings of the DOL throughout the later half of the eighteenth century, although Cleland is not known to have had a hand in any of them beyond the 1753 edition. Versions of the DOL appeared in England in 1776, 1777, 1787, 1795 and 1806. There are also listings for several versions printed outside England, including ones in Dublin (1754) and Philadelphia (1798). The latest reprinting appears to be R. Buchanan's edition, published in 1824 in Edinburgh (WorldCat Database). The 1776 edition came from publishers J. Bell and C. Etherington with a slightly modified title: Dictionary of Love, or the Language of Gallantry Explained. Aside from the following brief note from the editors, this edition is basically a wholesale reprint of the 1753 version:

This book was first printed in London, near thirty years ago, and as it has become exceeding scarce, it has been thought proper to reprint it.

However, an advertisement for the this edition of the dictionary appeared in Lloyd's Evening Post and made it clear who the work's intended audience was: "This Day was published, Price 2s. A beautiful and interesting little Work, for a Lady's Pocket, intitled A Dictionary of Love." Lonsdale comments that the Monthly Review also "drily noted the reappearance of 'this important Dictionary'" (287). The London Chronicle was sold by J. Wilkie, who would, the following year, contribute to another version of the DOL.

In 1777, publishers J. Bew, J. Wilkie, G. Riley, and W. Caville put out A Dictionary of Love, with notes. Wherein is the Description of A Perfect Beauty; The Picture of A Fop or Macaroni; And a Key to All the Arch-Phrases and difficult Terms used in that Universal Language. This edition made numerous, obvious changes to the content itself, adding footnotes and two new entries ('old maid' and 'ugly').

Additionally, the 1777 version seems even more playful than the previous editions. The preface takes on a less formal tone, mentioning several times that the book is meant as an amusement. Moreover, the new preface does not go to the same lengths to impress upon its readers the importance of the material; it seems that this edition's advertised purpose was more divertive than didactic.

Accordingly, some of the entries have been shortened, making them seem more entertaining and less serious. For example:

To Hate (1753 and 1776): Is never understood in a literal sense, but when employed against the ugly and the old. In general it is construed in a contrary sense. A mistress, from whom a favor is extorted by an agreeable violence, whilst she faintly resists, says, Pray let me along, I hate you mortally: this signifies, "Your boldness is far from displeasing me; you may even venture as far as it will go." Can you hate me then? means "I want to give myself the pleasure of hearing an assurance to the contrary, or of perplexing you, or of seeing how prettily you can turn a declaration of love." I know you hate me, in the mouth of a coxcomb, signifies, "I defy you, for the soul of you, to be otherwise than violently in love with such a pretty fellow as I am."
To Hate (1777): Is never understood in a literal sense, but when employed against the ugly and the old. In general it is construed in a contrary sense. I know you hate me, in the mouth of a coxcomb, signifies, "I defy you, for the soul of you, to be otherwise than violently in love with such a pretty fellow as I am."

Another pared entry is for the term "To Love," which lacks an entire paragraph that describes a man for whom "love" entails trying his hardest to strip a woman of her virtue. Further, the following entry for 'ruin,' which appeared in both the 1753 and 1776 editions, is missing from the 1777 version of the dictionary:

To Ruin (1753, 1776): a woman, to rob her of her honour, or (what is worse to many of them) of the reputation of it. Terrible as this word sounds, there are of them, who would look on no unhappiness so great, as that of having no reason ever to fear it would be attempted. Do you want to ruin me? is a phrase of capitulation: a kind of dying speech of virtue, just going to be turned off.

Here again, the editors appear to be omitting passages and words in order to prevent the dictionary from being as serious-minded as its predecessors.

Additionally, this omission implies that the editors may have been trying to make the dictionary more satisfactory to female readers. In addition to its surface meaning (i.e., that the aforementioned "question" is a surrender), the final phrase—"a kind of dying speech of virtue, just going to be turned off"—has the nuanced meaning that women can and do employ their virtue like servants who could be 'turned off' at will. It hints that women use virtue (or the semblance of virtue) when they need it to entice men and then turn it off when it becomes necessary to achieve the final goals of the seduction. Such entries that focused too much on warning or disparaging remarks may have been less pleasant for a woman to read, no matter how much humor they were couched in. By removing such entries, the editors created a work that is much less likely to cause women discomfort or offense.

Other indications that the editors meant for the 1777 edition to be more light-hearted appear not in reduced entries but in augmented ones. The following italicized segment is an addition to the definition of the term 'faults.'

Faults: The person one loves never has any. Either the lover does not see them (blinded by Cupid's fillet,) or, is as much reconciled to them as to his own....

This line could have been added for clarification, although the meaning does not seem hard to grasp without it. However, if this version of the dictionary was indeed trying to be more acceptable as an amusement to young people, perhaps this line was included merely to inspire a humorous visual image.

In some cases, the editors changed the language of an entry completely. One of the most interesting modifications in the 1777 edition concerns the term 'old maid.' In the 1753 and 1776 editions, this term came as a subheading under the larger entry for 'maid.' The change in definition furthers the case that the editors of the 1777 edition may have been trying to appeal to female readers:

Maid, Old maid (1753): is an atrociously abusive expression, generally employed to signify one who could get no-body to make her otherwise; and always means a repenting one.
Old Maid (1777): Is a term used to distinguish those who could not get any body to make them otherwise. It is however, too often a term of reproach, because it is not a woman's own fault if she is an old maid; if she never was lucky enough to be asked the question.

Clearly, the second definition is more sensitive to women and takes into account the difficulties a woman faces when trying to make a successful marriage. Also, the 1777 definition does not directly state that an 'old maid' must regret her state, although, it does indicate by using the word 'lucky' that being married is a more desirable condition.

However, the most extensively changed single entry is by far the definition for 'beauty.' All editions of the dictionary include a list of the physical qualities that make a woman beautiful. In general, the lists from the 1753, 1776 and 1787 editions, which are identical to each other, are less detailed, using descriptions such as "a smooth, high forehead," "two lips, pouting, of the coral hue" and "a small mouth."

In contrast, the 1777 and 1795 editions represent the same areas of the body as "forehead white, smooth and open, neither flat nor prominent, but like the head well- rounded" and "the mouth should be small, the lips not of equal thickness; they should be well turned small rather than gross; soft, even to the eye and with a livid red in them."

One could argue that the extended descriptions are also meant to attract female readers: they are full of descriptions of what is said to be fashionable and beautiful, not unlike the magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, that women read today. Moreover, the longer the description, the more likely a woman is going to be able to find herself somewhere in it, in which case the 1777 edition appeals to a woman's vanity. The two lists do share four of the same criteria: "a sweet breath; an agreeable voice; a shape, noble, easy and disengaged; a modest gait and deportment."

Finally, as mentioned in the earlier description of the 1777 edition's title page, the editors' notes are some of the version's most delightful additions. Most appear as footnotes and are purely emphatic in nature, meant to stress the importance of a certain point. They seem, however, to be more colloquial than the standard entries in the dictionary. Moreover, their tone is almost one of camaraderie, aimed at female readers. In other words, they sound more like advice a woman might get from her mother or friend than they do the humorous moralizing of an outsider.

The excerpts below come from the terms 'To Abuse,' 'To Adore,' 'To Address' and 'Confidence.' Each one is immediately followed by the footnote that accompanies it:

To Abuse: ...Thus, when a lady grants a slight favor, as a kiss or her hand, perhaps even of her mouth, and the lover, *who is never to be satisfied, proceeds on such encouragement to liberties that put decency in danger; the lady, naturally alarmed, chides the encroacher....
*Girls! be sure however, that you keep such a fellow as this at a distance.
To Adore: ...I love: love did I say? I adore you! The true meaning of which fine speech is, "The secret of pleasing consists in flattering your self-love, at the expense of your understanding. I am straining hard to persuade you, that you have distracted my brain; not that it is so in the lease; but, whilst I laugh at you in my sleeve, for you swallowing this stuff, I may gain wherewith to laugh at you in good earnest*.
*A truth worth remembering
To Address: ...To whom do you think you are addressing yourself? is oftener a trap for a compliment, than a denotation of anger*.
*A proper hint to all prudes!
Confidence: ...A confidante-maid, who does not abuse her mistress's confidence, is a miracle for rarity*
*An important hint to young women not to have any female confident in love affairs.

Interestingly, there are no notes added for any terms beyond those that begin with 'D,' except for one odd addition to the term "Jealousy," which appears below:

If you would see this passion properly ridiculed, read the Comedy of Every Man in his Humour — the character of Kitely is highly finished.

The next edition in 1787, also published by J. Bell, is, unsurprisingly, a reproduction of his earlier 1776 edition. Publisher W. Lane's 1795 edition appears to be a slightly altered copy of the 1777 version, which eliminates most of the footnotes and some of the synonyms and is missing the entry 'yellow' entirely.

I have not seen the later versions from 1806 or 1824; nor have I seen versions published in 1754 in Dublin and in 1798 in Philadelphia. However, Lonsdale describes the 1795, 1806 and 1798 versions as "slightly abridged" (287), and I gather from this collective treatment that the later versions are not very dissimilar from the 1795 edition that I have examined. The 1754 and 1824 editions have yet to be described.