I love a good reference book! I understand that in the age of Google, most information is easily accessible at our fingertips. However, between the covers of a competent reference book, one can find etymology, tables, standards, an atlas of the world, Constellation charts, phyla and botanical groupings, full-page plates of illuminated Medieval manuscripts, just to name a few treasures–No need to cut and paste, trying to bookmark the page in your search engine, scrolling through Wiki pages which aren’t always credible or secure. Just pick up your tome (this reference is over 1500 pages) and search away!

In addition, researching older editions of dictionaries and reference books (1st edition published in 1926 in this case) gives a snapshot in history and a closer look at the culture, language, modes, political ideologies, geography, geology of a region, etc.

For this blog, I am reviewing a 1940 edition of The Winston Dictionary and Reference Library which I acquired at a restaurant in El Paso, Texas, while on vacation. Yes, I did ask my waiter if I could give this large book a new home after discovering it abandoned, on a dusty bookshelf in a faux-library.  Most of these books had been sawed in half to fit on the narrow bookshelves. Of course, we have all seen these “old books” used for decoration in trendy restaurants. My waiter quickly passed this request on to the manager who said, “I can only let you have one book as we need these for décor”. That was all I needed!

“This Reference Library, like a sewing machine, a slide rule, or a typewriter, (all obsolete as of this post) is a TOOL, designed to be used with frequency and facility (vii)”. Yes! A great reminder that all mastery is obtained through work and diligence.

So, if you were editing a “Library book” in 1926 for the John C. Winston Book House in Philadelphia, six years post World War I, what would you include?


According to the Editors, William Dodge Lewis, A.M., Pd.D, Litt. D., and Henry Seidel Canby, Ph.D., Editor of Yale University’s Saturday Review of Literature, the contents of this volume begin with the Reference Section which was designed “for developing breadth and accuracy of knowledge for everyday use”. When was the last time you rattled off Foreign Monetary Units of Russia in Chervonetz at a dinner party? (It was 8.7123 in 1940) Yes, I could Google this, and I did; however, how would I have even known what a Chervonetz if I had not discovered it in my Winston Reference book? Did you know it is only 2409 miles from Honolulu to Seattle? What are the signs and symbols of the Alphabets in Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Roman, German, and Russian at one glance?


The Winston English Dictionary, the largest single division of the Library, was prepared by a special staff of lexicographers over five years (In 1928, 414,825 words were discerned and discovered and catalogued for publication in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary—over twenty years of work compiling—see my post here).

It was important to Lewis and Canby that the definitions in the Dictionary section be both “simple and accurate” and that the preferred spelling of variant words be listed first(v).


The vocabulary exhaustively covers the range of words in current literary usage (1940) as well as obsolete, archaic, and dialectal words used by the outstanding writers of English from the Elizabethan Age to present especially words that occur in Shakespeare, Milton, the Bible, Burns, Scott, Stevenson. I love this!

Pronunciation and Illustrations

As a linguist, I am always fascinated by Pronunciation section in a Reference Library: the articulatory phonetics and the word and sentence stresses. Winston does not disappoint! The lexicographers stressed the pronunciation of every main word by respelling it according to the system of letters and diacritical marks in common use of American textbooks at that time.

Has the pronunciation of American words changed in the past eighty years? Yes, quite a bit according to the Editors of Merriam-Webster.

Take the word hierarchy for example. In 1940, the syllabic division was:  “hi er ar chy”.

In 2022, ‘hi e rar chy”. The current pronunciation reminds me of the phonétique francais in which most syllables begin with a consonant to add in the euphonic technique of liaison.

Similar to the word different—Winston reference =Diff er ent, Webster’s 2022= “dif fer ent”.

Eight colored plates and more than 3000-line drawings clarify the definitions, and several tables, lists, and charts have been set up to amplify and explain the definitions of these terms.

Synonyms are listed, often with full paragraphs discriminating the nicer shades of meaning! Grammatical information as to the principal parts of verbs, the plural of nouns, and the comparison of adjectives, is supplied whenever doubt or uncertainty could arise (and often does!)


What are some highlights of using my new “tool” that has enriched my lexicon?

In the section:

  • Christian Names– My name, Robyn, is a nick-name for Robert which means “bright in fame”. It derives from Latin Robertus.
  • Chronological Table—The last entry is 1939.

-United States: New York World’s Fair 1939 (There would be only two World’s Fairs in NYC-1939 and 1964. My Dad drove us to this 1964 World’s Fair and I saw my first Dinosaur at the Sinclair Dinoland!)

-Japan: bogs down in Chinese war; border skirmishes occur between Japan and Russia

-Many European states prepare for a general war: Russia unexpectedly signs a pact of friendship with German

 “Hitler insists on the restoration of Danzig and of the Polish corridor. Poland, backed by England and France, resists these demands: Hitler attacks Poland, and war is declared by England and France against Germany on September 3. Italy declares her neutrality: German and Russian armies conquer Poland and divide it up; Russia moves against the Baltic states (1272)”.

As we know now, this is the beginning of World War II; the rest, as they say, is History.

[When the first edition of Winston Reference Library was published in 1926–five years after the end of World War I–the world had not even heard of Hitler]

  • Dictionary

Flags of the Leading Nations of the World:

Flags, first designed in the Middle Ages, were borne at the lance head by warrior knights, as an emblem of the lord or knight. In time, it became a symbol of “the people”. In the later part of the eighteenth century, national flags were constructed according to heraldic principles. The Stars and Stripes of the United States antedates to June 14, 1777, adopted by Congress (at the time of printing- U.S. flag added two stars- New Mexico and Arizona). Spain-1785; France-1795; British union Jack-1800. [see photo below, some flags, obviously, have been updated!]

goniometer: the measurement of the angles of a human head in craniometry.

Götterdämmerung: [Ger] the twilight of the gods. The last great battle when enemies are killed on both sides and the world sinks into the sea (see Wagner music drama)

Hœnir: [Norse] one of three gods who created the first two mortals

Lachesis: [Greek] one of Fates who measures off the thread of life (life span)

magniloquent: pompous in style or speech

neologism: a word or phrase recently introduced into a language (tweeting; cryptocurrency; athleisure; adulting; influencer; nomophobia; pertinacious- to name a few)

oriel: a window structure projecting from the outside wall of a building forming an extension of the room into which it opens (different from a bay window which is built from the ground up)

And, so much more! A new companion piece to my bedside table.

Work Cited

Lewis, W.D., Canby, H. S. (1940). The New Winston Dictionary and Reference Library. The John C. Winston Publishing: Philadelphia.