Decoding Emily

February 4, 2009

in History,Poetry,Tools,Words

Emily Dickinson’s poems can seem inscrutable at times, even after multiple readings. A modern dictionary can help with words like periphrasis and pinnace, but what about those more esoteric words and people? What (or who) are Jessamines? Who’s Dollie? Who’s Carlo?

A few days ago, while I was trying to determine precisely what Dickinson might have meant by the word “haply”, Google revealed a new source: the Emily Dickinson Lexicon. It’s online and searchable:

The Emily Dickinson Lexicon is a dictionary of alphabetized headword entries for all of the words in Emily Dickinson’s collected poems (Johnson 1955 and Franklin 1998 editions). The scope of the Dickinson lexicon is comprehensive. A team of lexicographers and reviewers has examined almost 100,000 individual word occurrences to create approximately 9,275 headword entries. The EDL includes proper nouns, person names, and place names that are not usually listed in general dictionaries of the English language. Because high-frequency function words such as a, of, and the are important for Dickinson studies, the EDL includes basic definitions for 168 words that were omitted from Rosenbaum’s concordance (xi) with their 38,235 occurrences.

It is a work-in-progress, but it’s certainly complete and polished enough for the casual reader.

The Jessamines? Dollie? Carlo? They are all there.

Also available: a digitization of the last edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language that Noah Webster made before his death — the same edition that Edward Dickinson bought for the family library in 1844.

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