THE BASIC DICTIONARY
C. K. OGDEN
A , B ,
THE OBJECT OF THE DICTIONARY
The primary object of this Dictionary is to provide Translators with Basic
equivalents for all the ordinary words of Standard English. It shows how
the 850 words (of which full details will be found in The Basic Words)
do their work.
It will thus serve as a foundation for similar Dictionaries covering the
essentials of other languages, and constitutes a practical application of
the principles of Word Economy which have been set forth in previous volumes
in the series.
It should, however, prove of equal value to all who are concerned with
the problem of simplification or with the teaching and learning of English
from other points of view. It demonstrates the possibilities of Basic as an
International medium, but at the same time it indicates the true nature of
the task which confronts any teacher of languages who believes in putting
the first things first.
HOW MANY WORDS DO WE USE ?
How many words does the average man use? The question is often asked,
and the answers of experts vary by more than 4000%1.
The variation is hardly surprising when we remember that use is dependent
on occasion, opportunity and temperament ; and that a word is very far from
being the simple and obvious entity which statisticians so often assume.
1. The Basic Vocabulary, 1930
As ordinarily asked and answered, the question is nonsensical. But the present volume may do something to
enlighten those who are still under the illusion that their own vocabulary is in the neighborhood of 1,000 words, or
that the man in the street can get along with little more than 300.
The modern mammoth Dictionary contains over 500,000 entries ; its abbreviations 100,000, 80,000, or 50,000.
Let, the reader take any standard Pocket Dictionary averaging 25-30,000
words, and compare it with the selection here provided. Let him try to
find 1,000 words omitted from The Basic Dictionary, which ordinary
experience would not characterize as technical, pedantic, or confined to some special
occasion or literary context. This, it may be confidently asserted, will prove to be the marginal thousand on which
any statistical controversy would turn ; and, incidentally, any such list, small or large, will be welcome to those who
are engaged in the preparation of the next edition. If 100 such words should seem to present strong claims, and if
100 words must similarly forego their claim, to inclusion in a strictly practical word-list, the following observations
would not be affected by the adjustment
The task of the foreigner, who would do more than repeat the few trite phrases which hotels and trains demand,
can thus to some extent be gauged ; for there are more than 10,000 further words (with corresponding antics) which
will early be brought to his notice if he happens to consort with the sophisticated ; and the scientist in his turn may
add another 10,000 before the level of international nomenclatures and symbols is reached.
- There are 7,500 "words which everyone knows" and which most people use in ordinary conversation, whose
appearance, pronunciation, or derivation, necessitates a separate entry. Of these, 7,000 are main words, which
cannot conveniently be grouped under others.
- By specialization and extension these 7,500 cover more than 10,000
further meanings which in other languages are, or may be, represented by
- These 18,000, or so, common words and metaphors of current usage require for their idiomatic employment
at least another 10,000 linguistic turns and twists which could not be guessed by anyone who had merely
learnt the single words and their various common meanings. So that the total verbal memory-load of
lowbrow conversational English is approximately four times its superficial Dictionary minimum, and would
require some 30,000 entries for its adequate representation.
THE BACKGROUND OF SIMPLIFICATION
How then can Basic English contrive to solve the problem of universal communication with only the 850
words entered in black capitals in the Dictionary and printed on the single sheet of business notepaper which forms
its frontispiece ? When the theoretical background of simplification had been filled in some ten years ago, 1
the answer was already clear ; but it has required the intervening period to expand it into a system.
Fortunately the fundamental principle involved can be stated in the simplest language, since it amounts only to
the reduction of all language to its basic terms.
The great majority of the words which we use both in conversation
and in science are what may be called shorthand for other words.
That is to say, they can be translated into terms which are generally
regarded as more ' matter of fact '. There is no need in this connection to go more deeply into the question of what is a 'fact', or what is
'matter', for the fact of the matter is sufficiently obvious to be allowed to pass.
The great majority of the things to which we refer are what may
conveniently be called fictions, popularly known as abstractions for
which again there are verbal equivalents commonly recognized as ' closer to reality '.
The great majority of statements which we make about things and people are emotive :
they are indeed about things and people, but the words which are used add or insinuate something more ;
namely something about our emotions or the emotions we wish our hearers to adopt.
The most important group of 'shorthand' words are what are known in European languages as ' verbs ' -- words like ' accelerate ' and ' ascertain '; the abstractions may be typified by words like ' blindness ' and
' breakfast '; the emotive terms, by words like ' credulous ' and ' courteous. '
Behind all these words analysis finds something simpler. To accelerate is to go more quickly ; when eating
breakfast we are having our early meal ; the credulous individual is one who (in our opinion) is over-ready with
belief. In all these cases the analysis could be taken further ; but the level we reach is one stage nearer the
fundamental base of factual description ; and if Basic, with its 850 words, can cover the 18,000 uses of the 7,500
above mentioned, approximately at this level, the emergence of a Universal Language will reward us for our pains.
1. The Meaning of Meaning (3rd Edition, 1930), p. 262. Technologically,
the method is that which Bentham first indicated in his account of Archetypation
and Paraphrasis for the reduction of Fiction in general (Bentham's Theory of
Fictions, 1932, Part I, Section V.).
THE METHOD OF ELIMINATION
The first step towards the simplification of the vocabulary consists therefore in the systematic elimination of
Verbs proper, i.e., of all verb-forms in which in addition to the operation of one body on another, or of the human
body as a whole, the direction of the action is also specified. The combination of operators and directives
(prepositions) gives us, on a preliminary survey, equivalents for some 2,000 common verbs ; at the same time, a
preliminary reduction of abstract and emotive terms accounts for another 1,500 lexicological items. At this stage
about half the Basic necessities can readily be determined, and more than half the elementary test material of the
Dictionaries has been covered.
Three major problems then present themselves:
What is wanted, therefore, is a reliable method of charting the possibilities of any particular word ;
and after much experimentation such a method was discovered.1 It consists essentially in
a radial diagram of the conjugates of any word, under thirty main headings, providing at a glance the
data for its comparison with my rival claimant to a place in the Basic list.
- To eliminate the remaining 3,000 common words.
- To establish the remainder of the Basic vocabulary within the limits set.
- To ensure that for all International purposes the field of reference is
covered in such a way that the General Vocabulary can be expanded into a total
Scientific vocabulary not exceeding 1,000 words for any particular science.
At the other end of the scale some knowledge of the range of internationality of the scientific vocabularies
themselves was necessary before the full requirements which Basic is designed to meet could be determined.
The results thus obtained led in 1928 to a provisional system which left less than 15% of the vocabulary in
doubt. It was then possible to scrutinize a waiting list of about 250 claimants, each involving (if included) a certain
number of shifts in the word-cluster to which it belonged ; and the practical task of testing by translation on an
elaborate scale was undertaken it the same time. Specimens of such translations have already been published
2, as well as a few samples of more idiomatic composition 3 ; and the,
Dictionary itself marks the final definitive stage of the entire research.
- The Panoptic Method, 1933.
- Carl and Anna (in Basic English) 1930 ;
The Basic Traveler, 1930 ;
The Gold Insect (Poe's "Gold Bug " in Basic) 1932
- Brighter Basic, 1930.
HOW TO USE THE DICTIONARY
Since the Dictionary is designed in the first instance for translators who already have a knowledge of the
Standard English for which a Basic equivalent is sought, it must not be approached quite at the level of other
Dictionaries whether designed for the inquisitive or for the learner.
The difference may be illustrated by the treatment of a word like smile.
According to the Pocket Oxford Dictionary a smile is "a relaxation of the features, often with parting
of the lips, expressive of affection, pleasure, amusement, contempt, etc."
Whatever the philological value of such a definition it is of little use to the Basic
translator. In Basic we might indeed say that a smile makes the face muscles more loose, often with parting of the
lips, as a sign of pleasure or amusement, or, in agreement with Darwin, that "a smile may be said to be the first stage
in the development of a laugh" ; but little or no use could be made of such information ; that "she gave a little laugh",
or that "her lips were parted in amusement" may not sufficiently cover her infinite variety in all stages of incipient
risibility,' but no lady could complain that a translator so armed must necessarily do her injustice ; especially when
he had explored the further possibilities of recording her sense of humor, (or her
low opinion of the sallies of another) or the soft look of pleasure which came over
her face, to say nothing of the signs of amusement in the
definition itself. And finally both would discover with relief that, in addition to all these approximations, Basic can
afford the word SMILE itself as a concession to the literary and conversational exigencies of everyday life.
1. Her too obvious disposition to risibility." Scott, Guy Mannering.
In other words, the Dictionary supplies substitute phrases for translation purposes, and not definitions for
identification. Some of these phrases will be memorized by the learner at an early stage, since they are liable to
obtrude themselves frequently ; others are the inevitable outcome of a moment's reflection. But to -acquire the
technique itself, nothing more is requisite than the same sort of practice which is a necessary condition of
proficiency in any medium of communication.
In general, the equivalents given represent the same part of speech as the original word. But as it is frequently
necessary to alter the form of a sentence in order to make use of a participial form instead of a verb, the participle is
sometimes given as a verb-equivalent. Thus we get 'ape' = copying, 'bake' = cooking
in the oven, and so on. Words or phrases which may be helpful to the translator are
sometimes given in addition to the word-for-word equivalents. Examples are' administer,'
government ; 'glisten' jeweled ; 'fit', taken suddenly.
Where a single word is used as two or more different parts of speech or in two or more different senses, only
one of which is really I common, equivalents are occasionally given for -the less common usages as well. Hence
such apparent incongruities as 'pan out', and 'express a liquid'.
With limited linguistic material at one's command it is often a far more difficult task to supply working
equivalents for words than it would be to devise accurate but cumbersome definitions. The decision of the
Committee only to exclude words on general grounds (i.e. because they fall into some group of words which is
excluded, and not because they present individual difficulties) has given rise to some interesting problems in
lexicography. The difficulties occur most frequently in the case of objects which are sufficiently familiar to make
any novel mode of reference seem ludicrous to English ears.
In certain cases, suggestive phrases have seemed more profitable than the usual cut and dried substitute. Thus
the appropriate term for a fan--easy enough to describe when of the electric variety--is left to be inferred from the
verb-equivalent 'put the air in motion (by waving bits of paper, silk)'. 'Fountain' presents a similar difficulty, and
here 'playing water' is thrown out as a suggestion. Another method is to offer substitutes which will serve on the
majority of occasions, and leave the rest to the translator's ingenuity and the inspiration of the moment. 'Doll' is
represented specifically as a wax-baby and generally as a plaything. Other difficulties arise among family
relationships, where a bald statement of fact does not always fit very happily into a social context. Twin sisters would not
relish being introduced at a party as' two at one birth' ; and a 'woman not married again' is an awkward circumlocution
for a widow to use for, any but passport purposes. Special problems will also be found in dealing with
'mainland', 'canter', and 'cross'.
Idiom. It must not be inferred that whenever the translator is provided with a
more idiomatic alternative than elementary knowledge would be able to attain, the foreign
learner is committed to a similar turn of phrase. The expert translator, using all the
possibilities at his disposal, will, of course, express himself in an idiomatic manner
which no foreigner need trouble to emulate. At his discretion he may use such terms as
'so long', 'working one's way in', 'get a move on', though others less familiar with
the language will keep on safer ground with 'good-day', 'get a person's good opinion',
and 'be quick'. What may be claimed is that an English which happens to conform
more closely to current idiom than is demanded by intelligibility puts no one at a
disadvantage ; in its context it will be understood by the foreign learner.
Even 'out-and-outers' and 'black sheep' imply, if they do not describe, the social outcast.
And the spirit which counts minor deviations from convention as artistic or social
transgressions cannot long survive.
Moreover, the foreign learner is in any case in a majority of 20:1, and therefore 95% of his effort will be
directed to making himself intelligible to other foreign learners for whom Basic provides an international medium.
To a certain extent it will therefore be possible for him to ignore the fact that one may be 'in fear' but not 'in hate',
and to say with impunity that a man is 'off his mind', has taken 'the small ones' for a walk, or ' given angry words'
to the milkman. Nor must it be forgotten that the Standard English of the text-books is confined to less than 10%
even of the professedly English-speaking peoples, as is soon discovered by a migrant from Droitwich to Detroit,
from Toowomba to Chattanooga or Walla Walla, Wash.1
At the same time every effort has been made to depart as little as possible from the
elementary word collocations specified in Basic English and The A.B.C. of
Basic English, where all essential idiomatic usages are indicated as required.
There are very few of these, however, which cannot be learnt as intelligible metaphorical
uses. Two or three compound words, of which the most important are without, well-off,
and away, and a few phrases like put up with and make out are the
only items which need be presented as new words. All the rest are reasonable extensions :
put off a meeting, have something in store for, let a prisoner off, put heart into,
and so on.
The Dictionary does not take account of slang terms. Since the virtue of slang lies in a piquant quality which
cannot survive translation into Basic, the foreigner need only concern himself with the more respectable idioms.
Hence 'jug' is a harmless vessel and a 'bitch' is nothing more human than a female dog. Nor will Basic allow such
tempting locutions as a 'frame-up' or a 'wash-out'.
1 A sentence such as "When the elevator man had gotten where he located, so he could figure out from the editor's notation that his low-down
on the jam probe was not available, he was sick at the stomach ', though readily Intelligible to 60% of the English-speaking world, would have to
be translated for a resident in the British Isles somewhat as follows : "When the lift attendant had reached his dwelling, so that be could realize
from the Editor's marginal comment that his Inside information about the Inquiry Into the Causes of Traffic Congestion was not acceptable, he
International words. Words that have been accepted as international in the Basic system are used in the
dictionary. In this connection we may note that even in these days of international transport it is still very difficult
to find good general words to cover the different forms of traffic and equally difficult to find international terms.
Automobile is perhaps the most widely understood, but many Englishmen use it sparingly. A tram may be converted
into a' street-electric' ; we have trains, carriages and carts, but a lorry must be described in terms of a cart, and a
bicycle is a two-wheeled machine until further international data from official sources are available.
The names of well-known characters of history and fiction and other proper names, which may often be used
effectively in translation, are treated as international. A 'cigar', for example, appears as a Havana
or Corona ; the 'Devil' as Satan ; 'Hell', as Inferno. So too are onomatopoeic words,
which put at the disposal of the translator a symphony of buzzes, hisses, hiccups, and miaous ;
though in almost all cases these sounds can be rendered less ambiguous by reference to the causal agent.
International names. In addition to the ordinary international words there are words entering into
internationally understood titles, such as Dominion, Colony, Kingdom, Royal. These may be presumed to be
intelligible in their context, and are therefore already halfway to being internationalized for general purposes.
Meanwhile alternatives are also indicated.
Compound Words. Straightforward Basic combinations like milkman present
no difficulty ; descriptive compounds like blackberry, blackbird, are allowed in the
form of specializations ; bluebottle, which is analogically descriptive, is on the
borderland ; while butterflies, and chestnuts must be rejected as giving no
clue to their identity.
Derivation. Accepted philological conclusions are utilized for
classifying separate uses of the same word as of similar or different derivation.
This is purely a matter of convenience, and the rulings must seem arbitrary to a
foreigner where historical data are relied on. Thus relay', s. and 'relay', v. are of separate derivation, the one being
from the Fr. relaise, and the other a compound of re- and lay, while 'cross', s. and 'cross', adj. are of the same
derivation. 'Mangle' and 'canvas' are equally eccentric.
Where different derivations for the same word-form are recognized, the separate entries are numbered 1, 2, 3,
etc. Otherwise the uses are divided by a semi-colon only--full stops being reserved for the separation of equivalents
representing different parts of speech.
Words of the same form that are pronounced differently, whether of the same derivation
('conduct') or of separate derivation ('bow') are also differentiated by numbers,
and an indication of the phonetic variations is given.1
1. The pronunciation of the Basic Words themselves is no concern of the present Dictionary, but will be found in The Basic Words, (where it is
given in the International Phonetic Alphabet) supplemented by four special Gramophone Records (price xo/- the set) for those who wish to
approximate to the conventions of Standard English.
One convenient consequence of the fact that the Dictionary is designed chiefly for those who
are familiar with Standard English is the reduction made possible in the number of subsidiary entries. It has not
seemed necessary to insert more than a few examples of any particular word-cluster. The commonest form is
selected, and derivatives, etc., are only added where there is a special twist or some separate translation problem :
e.g. 'receive', 'reception' ; 'known', 'well-known'.
Anachronisms. There are various institutions of which the names are
familiar enough though they themselves have been superseded by modern developments.
It has not been thought worthwhile to incorporate these where they
present any particular difficulty. Thus 'castle', 'demon', 'feudal', for example,
find no place in the Basic cosmos : they must be italicized on any occasion when
they are specifically required.
It will be found that many actions which
would require very complicated description can be referred to quite simply
in their context, e.g. 'rivet'--where the noise of riveting is nothing
more than "the noise of hammering ", or of putting nails in. In the case of the
'eyelids', what we move can generally be the eye itself ; while for most uses of
the 'eyelashes' eye-hairs are quite sufficient. An indirect substitute for such
a word as 'wince' is obtained by translating the movement into terms of the
emotion which it indicates ('be in fear'). Certain entries can only be given
another verbal equivalent when taken as part of the sentence or phrase in which
they occur, e.g., 'aback', 'sake'.
What is excluded?
Certain classes of words are necessarily excluded from the present dictionary.
Basic, like other international systems, is not concerned with titles as such,
any more than with proper names ; nor does it at present deal with systems of
calculation and measurement, where, for the purpose of written communication,
international symbols are already available. Scientific terms depend for translation
on the aid of special vocabularies1 and have no place in a non-technical dictionary.
For this reason quite common words like 'distil', crystallize', and 'frequency'
(in the electrical sense) are left for separate treatment. In order not to
introduce a confusion of levels, when a word is one of a technical group from
which it cannot be detached without sacrificing its practical significance,
it is omitted from the dictionary even though it could be rendered Basically
in the language of the layman. For example' nouns' (names) and adjectives
(quality words) are dismissed with the more abstruse grammatical mysteries,
while 'wickets' (the sticks) are classed with the less tractable bats and 'pitches'.
By a happy chance, 'the phraseology of Bridge is comparatively well-represented since
the Basic player is able to give out the cards, go two hearts, take all the tricks,
and put his hand down ; nor have we omitted in the interests of popular
journalism, to find a place for football and 'fighting with the gloves.'
1 See Basic English Applied (Science), where the special 50-word vocabularies of
Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology are discussed and exemplified.
Specialized linguistic fields are not confined to the accepted sciences. Separate treatment is accorded in Basic
to any localized or minute system of nomenclature. Such animals and foods, therefore, as are found in Zoos and
Menus but have no international distribution are omitted from the present list ; the former (like all local plants) have
their scientific names for purposes of international reference, and the latter can usually be described in less than 10
words, when occasion demands, but further international rulings are here awaited. The same applies to a variety of
chemical and other substances (lime, soda, turpentine, etc.), and to such other objects as have only local or
occasional uses. The Basic list of common objects contains the 200 words which are in most universal demand but it
cannot be expected to cover the chef's array of panchons, casseroles, and colanders, or the carpenter's armory of
augurs, gimlets, and chisels. In the case of most objects as specific as these, conveniently short descriptive phrases
are not easy to find. Definitions similar to those provided in the ordinary dictionaries,
where e.g., a 'syringe' is a "tube with nozzle and piston into which liquid is drawn by
suction to be ejected in fine stream, in gardening, surgery, etc." ( = a pipe with nose-bit
and push-pull apparatus into which liquid is got by using air-power, to be sent out in a
thin line, for gardens, medical purposes, and so on) can readily be framed ; but the
translator will probably prefer temporarily to italicize any such words as cannot be
circumvented by some more general term (vessel, apparatus, etc.) with appropriate
ad hoc adjectives.
The Basic Words.
The 850 words of Basic English are included in the present
Dictionary for convenience of reference only. It is assumed that the translator
is already fully acquainted with their uses as given in The Basic Words,
and with the rules for their manipulation which will be found in Basic English
or in the ABC. The brief definitions or indications of their senses,
specializations, and extensions have therefore a purely mnemonic value,
though the technique here adopted of explaining them as far as possible in non-Basic
terms frequently serves also to emphasize how essential are the words themselves.
Errors and Omissions.
This Dictionary contains, as already stated, some 7,500 entries, and as a working
selection for a special purpose from the immense mass of material at our disposal it is bound to seem both arbitrary
and incomplete. For its gradual improvement at the present level it must rely chiefly on the co-operation of those for
whom it is designed, as well as on our foreign collaborators in all countries. In due course, when funds are available,
a full-scale Basic Dictionary will also see the light ; meanwhile it is encouraging to find that even with the labors of
half a century I behind them the compilers of the latest edition (1930) of the
Pocket Oxford Dictionary, with its 1,000 pages of masterly condensation,
have still failed to include such common words as technology and
mimeograph or any of their derivatives, still treat prompt as an adverb,
neglect the fact that by-pass refers to a road
as well as to a pipe, and assert that the United Service Club is popularly known as the' Rag'.
In conclusion, it need hardly be added that the field over which the Basic vocabulary has already been tested is
a very wide one. In addition to the published items referred to on page ix, originals and translations running to many
hundreds of thousands of words are virtually awaiting publication--when the necessary revision has been completed
and certain difficulties of international copyright have been removed.
To one group of collaborators--whose preliminary conclusions were embodied in
Basic English Applied (Science) - was entrusted the task of sifting the
verbal material relative to science in its international aspects. Others
have been occupied with the Radio, Commercial, Literary, Biblical, and Psychological fields.
From a variety of independent translators and experimenters in the application
of Basic to Education in all parts of the world we have derived invaluable assistance,
and the technical advice of numerous experts in every branch of linguistic activity has
been freely drawn upon.
The correlation of these various contributions has been the work of a special
permanent Committee, directed by Miss L. W. Lockhart, the translator of Carl and Anna
and author of Word Economy (uniform with the present volume) in which the
technique of substitution is dealt with in its logical and psychological aspects.
To her in particular, and to all those whose assistance has been generously given
in the task of completing this, the final stage of the Basic system, my indebtedness
is obvious and my gratitude profound.
The Orthological Institute
10, King's Parade
TYPE AND ABBREVIATIONS
- Standard English words (in ordinary black type)
- are translated by their
Basic equivalents in ordinary type.
Alternatives are indicated by brackets, or by a comma.
Words which usually complete a phrase in which the
word may occur are also placed in brackets. Occasionally a single Basic word
is given to remind the translator of a further possibility.
- Parts of speech.
Unless otherwise indicated it is to be assumed that any entry is a substantive.
|s. = substantive || prep. = preposition|
|v. = verb || pron. = pronoun|
|adj. = adjective || conj. = conjunction|
|adv. = adverb || int = interjection|
- Where the same word is pronounced differently in different
senses the change is shown by a stress accent or a conventional English phonetic
equivalent, in brackets. Thus (Ab'strat) (Abstract'), or (Abuse)
- Roman type
- as distinct from black and italic type is used for the Basic equivalents themselves.
- All non-Basic words (other than the entries themselves) are in italics.
- BASIC WORDS are printed in black capitals.
- Their uses are indicated, where practicable, by non-Basic words and
phrases, all essential Specializations (s) and Extensions (e) being specified, with occasional supplementary
locutions or idioms for the guidance of the translator. Names of substances and other objects which cannot be
translated (e.g. moon) are amplified by a Basic formula.
- As in Standard English
- implies exceptis excipiendis, in accordance
with the rules given in Basic English.
- D. indicates that Derivatives (-er, -ing, -ed)
- may be formed in accordance
with the rules given in Basic English ; or that the usual derivatives and
conjugates of Standard English are also included in Basic.
[ 106 pages ]
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