Could this be the greatest Indie achievement of all time?

Indie authors have been around for longer than you may think…


Dr Joseph Wright, born at Thackley, near Bradford, on October 31st 1855, was known in his time as the outstanding authority on dialect. Realising that dialects were fast disappearing, he created The English Dialect Dictionary which ran to six immense volumes. Publishers, however, shied away from it and Joseph decided to self-publish from his Oxford home and achieved instant success. The volumes contained over 5,000 pages, recorded approximately 100,000 words and some 500,000 quotations. The total cost of production was estimated at £25,000. He was already respected as one of the greatest philologists of his time and occupied the Corpus Christi Chair at Oxford, but when he died on February 27th, 1930, it was for his dictionary he wanted to be remembered.

Joseph’s life was remarkable in many ways. This brilliant scholar began his life in the workhouse. His father, Dufton Wright, was the son of a wealthy farmer, but Dufton was a ne’er-do-well who worked as a wool-weaver, then as a quarryman, and upped and left his wife and children to the care of the parish.

At the age of six, Joseph was working as a donkey-boy. At the age of seven, he was a bobbin-doffer at the Soltaire Mills of Sir Titus Salt. For the first fourteen years of his life, Joseph lived in a one-room hovel with his mother and siblings – when not in the workhouse. He had no education until the age of ten, when he went to the Saltaire factory school for half-timers. There, he learned the alphabet, some arithmetic, and part of the scriptures.

When his time as a half-time student ended, he began to educate himself and at the age of eighteen he set up an evening school in his mother’s cottage while working by day at the mills.

In 1876, he spent the money he had saved to travel to Germany where he studied for eleven weeks, and returned to Bradford as a junior teacher. In 1878, he matriculated from London University.

How did I discover the rags-to-riches story of Dr Joseph Wright? I bought a couple of antique books entitled The Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, in two volumes, published 1904, compiled by a Thomas Wright. Within the age-spotted pages, many of which were still uncut, I found a newspaper cutting, dated 29th October 1955, which was written to coincide with the centenary weekend being celebrated 100 years after Dr Joseph Wright’s birth.

Further to reading the newspaper article about Joseph, I have found more about him on Wikepedia. He was an important influence on J. R. R. Tolkien, and in the course of editing the Dictionary he corresponded regularly with my literary hero, Thomas Hardy. Virginia Woolf said of him in her diary, “The triumph of learning is that it leaves something done solidly for ever. Everybody knows now about dialect, owing to his dixery.”

In 1896, Wright married Elizabeth Mary Lea (1863–1958), with whom he co-authored his Old and Middle English Grammars. She also wrote the book, Rustic Speech and Folklore (Oxford University Press 1913), in which she makes reference to their various walking and cycle trips into the Yorkshire Dales, as well as various articles and essays.The couple had two children, both of whom died in childhood. (Source; Wikepedia)

The dictionaries I have are chock full of all manner of weird and wonderful words and phrases no longer in usage, or words of which the meanings have radically changed over time.

To kick things off, here are a few words chosen from the dictionary for your delectation;

The delightful phrase, ALAS-A-DAY, was an exclamation of pity.

I recall AJAX being a toilet cleaner some years ago but its association goes back a long way. Sir John Harrington, 1596, published a celebrated tract called “The Metamorphosis of Ajax” which referred to his invention which was the improvement of the ‘jakes’ or privy into a ‘water-closet’. The book was considered an offence to delicacy for which Queen Elizabeth kept him for some time in disgrace.

ABRODIETICALL, adj.  described “A daintie feeder or delicate person (taken from Minsheu’s Guide of Tongues, 1627).

AFTERMATH once referred to the second crop of grass.

AGATEWARDS, adv. To go agatewards with someone was to accompany him part of his way home, which was considered the last duty of hospitality towards a guest.

An AGINATOUR was a hawker of small wares. This word occurs in Cockeram’s English Dictionairie, 1639.

To AMUSE once had a very different meaning in some dialects, and referred to the action of flinging dust or snuff into the eyes of the person intended to be robbed.

An ANATHEMATISM was a curse.

Further reading about Dr Joseph Wright’s life and works can be found here;

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water:

The Calling of the Raven:

Anywhere the Wind Blows:

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12 thoughts on “Could this be the greatest Indie achievement of all time?

    • Thanks, Cathy. I’m going to be sharing some of these obsolete words and phrases on Twitter and Facebook over the next few weeks so you’ll be able to pass them on to her. It is fascinating to see how our language has evolved.

  1. Great research and a very interesting blog Jenny; I am only now catching up with your thoughts and writings and am equally fascinated by all the old sayings and the incredible history that goes with them. I read voraciously and love historic novels as well as new contemporary stuff. Have you read Lorraine Jenkin’s books?

    • Hi, Steve, glad you’re enjoying reading about this stuff. I haven’t read Lorraine Jenkin’s books. Does she write historical fiction? If you love historical novels, you might want to give Leap the Wild Water a try! The sequel is going to be released very soon.

      • I shall get hold of and read Leap The Wild Water. I used to do a bit of work restoring a Victorian Workhouse up at Llanfyllin. It was interesting but a bit chilling walking around inside but great that the buildings found new lives as art galleries, art shop and tearoom, function rooms, etc. I started going there for the music festival which was also called Workhouse. Now I have retired early I go to over 15 music festivals each year – it’s a hard life!!!
        Lorraine, who used to be one of our Footpath Officers in Llandrindod when I was Deputy County Planning Officer (re-writing the Structure Plan), writes more contemporary stuff with wonderful characters and humourous twists. The titles are a give away : ‘Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons’ , ‘Eating Blackbirds’, ‘Cold Enough To Freeze Cows’ and (only just published) ‘Jam Tomorrow’. I keep looking for characters and events from our Powys County Council past!! I think you’ll enjoy them.
        What is your sequel going to be called? or shall I have to wait and find out?

  2. Hi, Steve, the sequel is called The Calling of the Raven. I’ve posted a blog here revealing the cast of characters. Until very recently, I lived in the sticks above Llandegley. Beautiful scenery. I wrote a few scenes of Leap the Wild Water sat on the top of Llandegley rocks. I find the world grows smaller every day with the internet! I’ll look up Lorraine’s books. I’m about to go on a tour in a motor home, so will look up the Llanfyllin festival, too.

    • Ah yes, the wonderful Raven book cover – I shall read that one too.
      I know Llandegley – The Pales – the recycling centre – not my usual one as I live in Llanwrtyd and recycle most my stuff down at Llangadog (no charge there for hardcore as that’s a silly Powys policy). Memories of a works Christmas dinner at the Severn Arms in Penybont – must have been 2000 as I recall Lorraine did cartoon place names and labelled my the High Flyer – I left the following Easter to be national planning adviser on an e-Govt project across the whole of England and Wales – National Land Information service, later re-named Land Data or Gwasanaeth Gwybodaeth Tir Cenedlaethol. Does your writing feature Wales or Welsh customs at all? Someone i thought I knew (Jean Gill) wrote her first novel about funeral customs and practices in Wales – I look for characters I recognise in that too – lol.
      The Workhouse Festival ceased to be a few years ago – you will only find smaller events / concerts at the Workhouse now.
      I was at Landed last weekend near Newbridge on Wye.
      Motor-homing sounds good – could be source for a book there – have you read a blog by a couple who spend most their time trekking around the World in a small camper van and ?
      That’s what I’d like to do – just have to find a willing companion! – and a camper van !!

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