Write Like a Thespian With the Manipulus Vocabulorum, a 16th Century Rhyming Dictionary

The Manipulus Vocabulorum, from 1570, was the world’s first rhyming dictionary

The cover of the 1570 rhyming dictionary the Manipulus Vocabulorum Archive.org

O, to gaze upon thy blade

A weapon forged in Durham's... er... *checks the book* ... slade

Even poets of old needed help from time to time—a way to find the word that rhymed in just the right way. In 1570, Englishman Peter Levins compiled the world's first-known rhyming dictionary, a tome that organized Middle English by the words' last syllables.

Known as the Manipulus Vocabulorum, a reprint was issued in 1867 by the Camden Society. The Manipulus was no mere scholarly pursuit; it was a practical reference book, meant to be used by poets, says the Public Domain Review quoting from the book's introduction:

“It is necessarie for makers of meeter, so that it seemeth not only to redy him that maketh, but also to give him the way to learne the arte of the same”

Unfortunately for Levins, the dictionary's editor, the book proved to be more work than he'd bargained for, says Henry B. Wheatley, Secretary of the Early English Text Society in the preface of the 1867 re-release:

This book, like all works of the kind appears to have given the author greater labour than he expected, in collecting the materials. “For the gather of oure Englishe wordes, and deividing of the same into this alphabet order of the last sillabls being a trade not of any man afore attempted, or by the other Dictionaries, anything to recken up helped and furthered, must needs be a long travaile”

Levins may have had his work cut out for him in 1570, but we're glad he took it on. Now we know exactly which words best pair with “Horseleach.” (We like “Ouerreache.”)

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