The World’s Smallest Dictionary

Don’t blink or you probably won’t spot it! This is the world’s smallest dictionary – but it’s mighty impressive indeed!

If like us, you’re impressed and astounded at unique variations of print – then join us in staring in amazement at the world’s smallest dictionary!

This unbelievable piece of print was produced in 1890 and is accredited as being published by “Glasgow: David Bryce and Son”.

Whilst it looks diminutive in size (measuring just 27mm by 19mm), the dictionary itself is still packed full of text. In fact, it can be used very much the same as a regular sized dictionary.

However, you may require the use of a magnifying glass in order to read the content! The world’s smallest dictionary contains 385 pages, with a reported 13,000 dictionary definitions included – but with the text set at a tiny 1-and-a-half-point size!

A Closer Inspection of the World’s Smallest Dictionary

World's Smallest Dictionary

Image Credit: PBA Galleries

Much like other books from the same time period, the world’s smallest dictionary is bound in ‘red Moroccan leather’ – another term for goat skin.

On the front cover, it contains gilt writing, displaying the wording “BRYCE’S ENGLISH DICTIONARY” on the font.

Interestingly, the spine of the world’s smallest dictionary includes the words “English Dictionary” contained within a circle shape, but the back cover of the book is completely blank.

And even more intriguingly, the book is supplied inside of a purpose-built locket, both for ease of carrying the world’s smallest dictionary and to protect it from damage too.

Even closer inspection of the locket casing reveals that the glass on the front isn’t only a way of helping preserve the book.

Instead, opening the locket and holding the glass up to the text within the book provides the reader with an effective magnifying glass which enlarges the text for much easier viewing!

Opening the World’s Smallest Dictionary

Upon looking inside of the dictionary, the reader is greeted by some preface texts which states:

“The special feature of this little volume is, the by the omissions of some words which can hardly be supposed either in spelling or meaning to offer any difficulty to people likely to consult a dictionary, space has been found for a considerable number of puzzling words occurring in the scientific and other higher literature of our time.”

It continues:

“Care, however, has been taken to omit none of those common words whose spelling or exact use occasions at times a momentary difficulty even to well-educated people.

A similar rule has been observed in marking pronunciation: only such words as may reasonably give room for doubt have been marked.

The main aim of the compilation is to give as much useful information as possible in a XXXXXX space, and in a family, and, it is hoped, an XXXXXX form.”

Following onto the next page, it also explains:

“With this view, where noun, adjective and verb are all obviously connected in meaning, one only has sometimes been inserted; but in explaining the inserted words, kindred omitted words have either been explained or a key to their meaning has been supplied.

The little volume will thus be found to contain the meaning of very many more words than it apparently professes to explain.”

One of Many Small Dictionaries?

Whilst many believe this is one of the first world’s smallest dictionaries to exist, further research reveals that there are other varieties that you might still be able to spot today!

These are:

  • Bryce’s English Dictionary
  • Pears English Dictionary
  • Cole’s English Dictionary
  • Pearson’s Miniature Dictionary

Each variation is contained within a locket which contains the small magnifying glass we mentioned earlier, making each world’s smallest dictionary a very impressive piece of print indeed!


Source: Which English?The Smallest English Dictionary in the World, Bryce’s (1890) BRYCE’S ENGLISH DICTIONARY

Sam Rose