Small Latin and less Greek: A WhanThatAprilleDay pop-up exhibit

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Small Latin and less Greek: A #WhanThatAprilleDay pop-up exhibition at the Folger took place on April 2, 2019, from 1-4 pm. It was curated by Sara Schliep, the third Nadia Sophie Seiler Rare Materials Resident at the Folger. The exhibit was curated to celebrate the fifth annual #WhanThatAprilleDay; a Twitter holiday begun by Chaucer Doth Tweet (@LeVostreGC) to celebrate “oold, middel, ancient, and archaique” languages and remind “folk of the beautye and grete lovelinesse of studying the wordes of the past”.


The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries saw an influx of between 10,000 and 25,000 words enter the English language.[1] These words—especially Latin and Greek legal, technical, and medical terms—were directly borrowed from foreign languages, or were newly coined (invented) by writers. Long words used or coined by scholarly writers soon became known as “inkhorn terms” or “inkhornisms.”[2] They were viewed by many with scorn, taking on connotations of learned pedantry, and sparked what became known as the Inkhorn Controversy. (The term derives from the early ink containers made of animal horn and the notion that these lengthy words used up more ink than their shorter, Saxon-rooted English counterparts; compare the Latin conflagration and the English fire.)

Within the Inkhorn Controversy, there were those who supported borrowings and coinages. These Neologizers believed this would enrich the English language, which during the Tudor period was considered ‘rude’ and ‘barbarous,’ lacking the appropriate words to express learned ideas.[3] On the other side of the Controversy were the Purists who disparaged the abuse and excess to which many of the Neologizers had gone. Some Purists even went so far as to condemn foreign borrowings and invent compounds from Saxon words. Their reasoning was that since English words consisted of a single syllable, several could be joined together and would be relatively self-evident in meaning as opposed to foreign, polysyllabic inkhorn terms. This notion of a "pure" English language was also advanced by the Archaizers (a subset of the Purists), who believed that using archaic words in literature carried the weight of antiquity and authority with them.

Small Latin and Less Greek brought together many of the writers and texts involved in the Inkhorn Controversy, illustrating not only the various early modern opinions about the English language but also showcasing some of the inkiest words penned in early modern England.

The exhibition catalog, the flyer, and inkhorn word search are available for download as PDFs.

Items included


1) Geoffrey Chaucer. Whan that Apprill with his shouris sote and the droughte of marche hath p[er]cid þe rote... [Westminster]: [William Caxton], [1477]. Folger STC 5082. Selected images available in the Folger Digtial Image Collection.

  • This first edition (1 of 10 still in existence) of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was printed by William Caxton within a year of his establishing the first printing press in England—an event often associated with the start of the early modern period. While they are well-known for their roles in English literary history, Chaucer and Caxton spent time abroad and lived in an increasingly polyglot London, where French, Latin, English, Dutch, and other languages co-mingled in legal, literary, business, and personal networks. The Canterbury Tales exhibits many elements of such exchange and helped to popularize English-language literature. It is also the written source for many new words, such as army, magic, funeral, obstacle, strange, cinnamon, femininity, village, digestion, information, textual, crude, mystery, and annoyance. We can thank the Wife of Bath’s Tale (the beginning of which is displayed here today) for the words vacation, peace, disfigure, inclination, stubborn, and chose.

The Early Inkhorn Controversy

2) Sir Thomas Elyot. The boke named the Gouernour, deuised by s[ir] Thomas Elyot knight. Londini: In edibus Tho. Bertheleti, An. d[omi]ni M.D.xxxi. [1531]. Folger STC 7635.

  • Sir Thomas Elyot’s Book Named the Governor was the first educational treatise written in English. Latin was the language of learning in the Tudor period; English was considered ‘rude’ and ‘barbarous,’ lacking the appropriate words to express learned ideas. Producing an important work in English like the Governor (which went through 8 editions in the 16th century) could enrich the language and elevate its status at home and abroad. Elyot’s solution to the lack of vocabulary in English was to borrow words from Latin and Greek, “English” them, and/or give new meanings to existing words. Conscious of his neologizing (inventing new words), Elyot would often pair a new word with a more familiar synonym or phrase (a tactic later used by Shakespeare), as he does in this passage about maturitie, which he has “usurpe[d]” from Latin and hopes to make “facile” (easy) to understand.

3) Thomas Wilson. The arte of rhetorique: for the vse of all suche as are studious of eloquence, sette forth in English, by Thomas Wilson. [[London]: Richardus Graftonus, typographus regius excudebat], Anno Domini. M. D. LIII. [1553] Mense Ianuarij. Folger STC 25799.

  • Thomas Wilson was educated at King’s College, Cambridge, where he was introduced to a progressive (and particularly nationalist) form of English Humanisim. Through his connections with learned men, Wilson developed a strong aversion to exaggerated Latinisms. In the Art of Rhetoric, he expresses a purist view of the English language, following classical rhetoricians like Cicero and Quintilian who believed that linguistic purity could only be preserved if one resisted neologizing and borrowings. In Wilson’s section on Plainness in elocution, he writes that the first lesson one should learn is “that wee neuer affect any straunge ynkhorne terms.” He critiques neologizers like Elyot who “can catche an ynke horne terme by the taile” and be counted as a “fine Englishman.” To drive his point home, Wilson includes a Lincolnshire man’s letter so dense with inkhorn terms (e.g., contiguate, ingent, splendidious) that an “vnlearned man can tel, [only] what half this letter signifieth.” Wilson’s support for plainness and the start of that letter are displayed here.

4) Ralph Lever. The arte of reason, rightly termed, witcraft: teaching a perfect way to argue and dispute. Made by Raphe Leuer. Imprinted at London: By H. Bynneman, dwelling in Knightrider streate, at the signe of the Mermayde. Anno. 1573. Folger STC 15541.

  • Ralph Lever, a contemporary of Thomas Wilson, studied at St. John’s College, Cambridge where Sir John Cheke (the earliest purist of the Inkhorn Controversy) was provost. In the Art of Reason, Lever argues that English’s monosyllabic words are apt for creating new terms, which can be more easily understood by common Englishmen as opposed to “the inkhorn termes deriued of straunge and forain languages.” He puts this theory into practice in the title, coining “witcraft” to mean ‘reason’ or ‘logic.’ Lever also invents “forespeache” (displayed here) for the Latin “praefatio” (preface); “yeasay” and “naysay” for “affirmatio” and “negatio”; “saywhat” for “definitio”; “forsay” and “endsay” for “praemissae” (something mentioned at the beginning) and “conclusio” (something mentioned at the end); and so on. At the end of the book, Lever has included an index of all the newly devised terms to help his readers. While purists like Lever and Cheke may have despised inkhorn terms, many of them are still used in modern English; whereas, their hybrid English words are not.

5) Edmund Spenser. The shepheardes calender: conteining twelue aeglogues proportionable to the twelue monethes. Imprinted at London: By Iohn Wolfe for Iohn Harrison the yonger, dwelling in Pater noster Roe, at the signe of the Anker, 1586. Folger STC 23901.

  • Edmund Spenser was first educated at the Merchant Taylors’ School under the headmaster Richard Mulcaster, whose rigorous Humanist educational theories and promotion of the English language strongly influenced Spenser and his later works. At Pembroke College, Spenser became friends with Gabriel Harvey (to whom the preface is dedicated and who is allegorized as Hobbinol in the Shepherd’s Calendar, which was first published in 1579). The eclogue for April (displayed here) is a dialogue between Thenot and Hobbinol, who discuss a third character’s misadventure in love. Spenser, who was known for using archaic English words and drawing them out of obscurity includes several in this eclogue: garres (cause), yfere (together), soote (sweet), yblent (confused), and sicker (certainly). In the preface to this work, E.K. compares Spenser to Chaucer and defends his use of archaic words, noting that he has “laboured to restore, as to theyr rightfull heritage such good and naturall English words, as have ben long time out of vse and almost cleane disinherited…[from] our Mother tongue.” Archaizers like Spenser were considered a subset of the purists within the Inkhorn Controversy.

The Middle Years

6) Richard Mulcaster. The first part of the elementarie: vvhich entreateth chefelie of the right writing of our English tung, set furth by Richard Mulcaster. Imprinted at London: By Thomas Vautroullier dwelling in the blak-friers by Lud-gate, 1582. Folger STC 18250 copy 2.

  • Richard Mulcaster was a schoolmaster well-known for his rigorous training in Greek and Latin and encouraging his students to act. In The First Part of the Elementarie, Mulcaster defends his decision to write in English (which still had not attained a high status for use in learned texts): “I love Rome, but London better, I favor Italie, but England more, I honor the Latin, but I worship the English.” In the section called “Of Enfranchisement” (displayed here), Mulcaster explains the reason why “our tung semeth to haue two heds, the one homeborn, the other a stranger” being partly made up of “natural English, and most of one syllab” and partly of borrowed words “most of manie syllabs.” He takes the side of the neologizers in the Inkhorn Controversy, arguing that English can be “enlarged with our neighbours speches” and improved through enfranchisement (i.e., admitting those words into the English language and naturalizing them). The Elementarie also contains a wordlist and suggests the need for a dictionary of solely English words, but one would not exist until 1604 when Robert Cawdry published A Table Alphabeticall, which drew on Mulcaster’s wordlist.

7) George Puttenham. The arte of English poesie. Contriued into three bookes: the first of poets and poesie, the second of proportion, the third of ornament. At London: Printed by Richard Field, dwelling in the black-Friers, neere Ludgate, 1589. Folger STC 20519 copy 1. Selected images available in the Folger Digital Image Collection.

  • George Puttenham wrote the Arte of English Poesie as a handbook for the practicing poet. As maternal nephew to the neologizing Sir Thomas Elyot and educated by him, it is no surprise that Puttenham’s work contains neologisms such as “predatory,” “rotundity,” and “insect.” Puttenham also invented English names for all the figures of speech listed in Book 3, such as “Foreign Speech” for “Barbarismus,” which he deems the “foulest vice in language,” and “Mingle-Mangle” for “Soriasmus,” which refers to the “intolerable vice” of mixing Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, or Scottish “ignorantly and affectedly.” Here, in Book 3, Chapter IIII entitled “Of Language,” Puttenham explains that of the many kinds of men and their speeches, the Poet should not “follow the speach of a crafts man, or other of the inferior sort” nor shall he follow “Piers plowman, nor Gower, nor Lydgate, nor yet Chaucer, for their language is now out of vse.” Instead, the Poet should use the “vsuall speech of the Court, and that of London,” which by Puttenham’s time was already becoming the standard English dialect.

8) Londinum feracissimi Angliae Regni metropolis [cartographic material]. [Cologne]: [Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg], [1574]. Folger MAP L85b no.27. Available in the Folger Digital Image Collection.

  • This handcolored map of London with a Latin title advertising the city as a fertile, metropolitan English kingdom, includes placenames in English with Latin text in the legends in the bottom corners. The text at the bottom left praises the enhanced trade and material wealth brought to the city by a multitude of nations. And the text at the bottom right discusses the presence of the Hanseatic League (a powerful German merchant confederation) in London in the “Stilliard” (Steelyard) area (which can be seen to the left of the bridge on the map) and mentions their connections to England, France, Denmark, Moscoviae (i.e., Russia), and Flanders and Brabant (part of the Low Countries, now Belgium). The mixed language presentation of the map illustrates the transnational flow of languages, ideas, and technologies occurring in London during the Tudor and Elizabethan eras and in which the Inkhorn Controversy began as foreign words flooded into the city from the European Continent and through colonial expansion and exploration.

9) William Shakespeare. A pleasant conceited comedie called, Loues labors lost. As it vvas presented before her Highnes this last Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere. Imprinted at London: By W[illiam] W[hite] for Cutbert Burby, 1598. Folger STC 22294 copy 1. Available in the Folger Digital Image Collection.

  • Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost was first performed in the mid-1590s for Queen Elizabeth I and her courtiers. This edition, known as the first quarto (Q1), was the first to print Shakespeare’s name on the title page. The dialogue of the play is filled with puns, metaphors, malapropisms, corrupt and nonsensical Latin, and contains Shakespeare’s longest, Latinate word: honorificabilitudinitatibus, which is spoken by the clown, Costard, (5.1.143) as part of a joke (displayed here). By the later 16th century, this word had become a stock joke about pedantry and ludicrous Latinate terms. Shakespeare, who had a basic grammar school education that included the study of Latin and Greek, also mocks the pedantry of schoolmasters through characters like Holofernes (the pedant, who is possibly based on Richard Mulcaster) and Nathaniel (the curate) who speak in a mix of (not-always-correct) Latin, English, and French. The first quarto printing also draws attention to the Latin words and phrases in the play by setting most of them off with italics; Costard’s honorificabilitudinitatibus is a notable exception.

10) Thomas Speght. The vvorkes of our ancient and learned English poet, Geffrey Chaucer, newly printed. To that which was done in the former impression, thus much is now added. London: Printed by Adam Islip, an. Dom. 1602. Folger STC 5080 copy 3 (flat).

  • Two-hundred years after Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales and one-hundred years after the work first appeared in print, it was necessary for Thomas Speght to include a section dedicated to the significance of the “old and obscure words” Chaucer had used (displayed here) as well as a section translating “The Latine and French, not Englished by Chaucer.” In fact, these textual supports were a selling point, making it more accessible to an audience that no longer understood the majority of Chaucer’s Middle English language. Interestingly, Speght (or Islip, the printer) visually antiquated Chaucer’s language by using a black letter font, rather than the increasingly more common italic font. This particular copy was owned by the playwright Ben Jonson, who opposed neologizing. Jonson’s annotations indicate concern about stylistic archaism and the balance between plainness and eloquence. In 1599, Jonson was drawn into the Inkhorn Controversy through the War of the Theatres when dramatist John Marston satirized Jonson in his play Histriomastix. They exchanged barbs for several years with Jonson eventually attacking Marston’s elaborate neologizing by portraying him as Crispinus, who vomits up bombastic and ridiculous words in Poetaster (1601).

The First Dictionaries: Standardization and Rivalries

11) Henry Cockeram. The English dictionarie: or, An interpreter of hard English vvords. Enabling as well ladies and gentlewomen, young schollers, clarkes, merchants, as also strangers of any nation, to the vnderstanding of the more difficult authors already printed in our language, and the more speedy attaining of an elegant perfection of the English tongue, both in reading, speaking and writing. Being a collection of the choisest words contained in the Table alphabeticall and English expositor, and of some thousands of words neuer published by any heretofore. By H.C. Gent. London: Printed [by Eliot’s Court Press] for Edmund Weauer, and are to be sold at his shop at the great north gate of Pauls Church, 1623. Folger STC 5461.2.

  • Henry Cockeram’s 1623 English Dictionarie was the third monolingual English dictionary and the first to have the title of ‘dictionary.’ Cockeram followed the examples set by Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall (1604) and John Bullokar’s An English Expositor (1616), but expanded his to around 6,500 entries. Rather than being an alphabetical list like its predecessors, the Dictionarie is divided into books. The first is entitled ‘the choicest words themselves now in use,’ and contains “hard English words” (i.e., inkhorn terms) that had recently entered the language and clouded common understanding. The second book is an alphabetical list of ‘vulgar words’ and their ‘more refined and elegant’ synonyms, which anticipates the need for standard usage. Cockeram’s Dictionarie was popular, being published in eleven editions between 1623 and 1628, and in 1670 it was enlarged for a twelfth edition. The Oxford English Dictionary (today’s most comprehensive standard) cites Cockeram as the first source for nearly 600 words, some of which he took from contemporary texts like Thomas Nash’s Christs Teares Over Jerusalem (1593) and others he Anglicized from contemporary Latin-English dictionaries.

12) Thomas Blount. Glossographia: or A dictionary, interpreting all such hard vvords, whether Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Teutonick, Belgick, British or Saxon; as are now used in our refined English tongue. ... With etymologies, definitions, and historical observations on the same. Very useful for all such as desire to understand what they read. By T.B. of the Inner-Temple, Barrester. London: Printed by Tho. Newcomb, and are to be sold by Humphrey Moseley, at the Prince’s Arms in St Pauls Church-yard, and George Sawbridge at the Bible in Ludgate-hil, 1656. Folger B3334.

  • Thomas Blount’s 1656 dictionary, which surpassed Cockeram’s in popularity soon after its first publication, contains over 11,000 words. It was the fourth monolingual English dictionary and the first to give both sources for definitions and etymologies. In the preface, Blount addresses the rapid changes in the English language, noting that “our English Tongue daily changes habit; every fanatical Traveller, and homebred Sciolist being at liberty, as to antiquate, and decry the old, so to coyn and innovate new Words.” He also notes the mixing of languages in London, specific to types of merchants, writing “many of the Tradesmen have new Dialects” where cooks talk of omelets and ragouts, vintners serve coffa and chocolate, and tailors make Gippons (i.e., tunics) from drap-de-berry (i.e., wool from Berry in France). Yet he supports such neologizing, explaining that “our best modern Authors…have both infinitely enriched and enobled our Language, by admitting and naturalizing thousands of foreign Words, providently brought home from the Greek, Roman, and French Oratories.” This opening, at the end of entries for the letter B and the start of those for C, shows some of Blount’s innovative practices, such as for the entry for Burlybrand, whose etymology is given as “Sax.” for Saxon, and its source Chaucer.

13) Edward Phillips. The nevv vvorld of vvords. Or a general English dictionary. Containing the proper significations, and etymologies of all words derived from other languages, viz. Hebrew, Arabick, Syriack, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, Brittish, Dutch, Saxon, &c. ... The fourth edition. ... Containing besides ... a collection of such affected or barbarous words as are advis’d to be cautiously or not at all us’d. ... Collected and published by E.P. London: Printed by W.R. for Obadiah Blagrave at the Bear in St. Pauls Church-yard, near the little North door, 1678. Folger P2072.

  • The first edition of The New World of Words was published in 1658 containing 11,000 words and was the first English dictionary to be published in folio size, which was used only for works of great importance. Edward Phillips was the maternal nephew of John Milton, who was himself a prolific neologizer and in charge of Phillips’ early education. Phillips plagiarized many of the entries for his dictionary from Blount’s Glossographia. The two would publish competing editions for several decades along with more personal attacks including Blount’s publication of A World of Errors Discovered in the ‘New World of Words’ in 1673 and Phillips’ list of “such affected and barbarous words as are advis’d to be cautiously or not at all us’d”—the majority of which are terms from Blount’s dictionary—seen here in this 1678 edition. Inkhorn terms Phillips advises against using include flexiloquent (speaking so as to bend or incline the minds of others), honorificabilitudinitatibus (honourableness), libanomancy (divination by Frankincense), opisthographical (having something written on the back), quinquipunctual (having five points), and vulpinarity (a Fox-like subtlety).

14) David Garrick. Epigram by David Garrick on Johnson’s English dictionary [manuscript], 1755. Folger Y.d.124, fol. 6.

  • David Garrick, best-known as a Shakespearean actor, here authored a poem commemorating his tutor, mentor, and friend, Samuel Johnson, for his recently completed English dictionary, the first to be comprehensive and not just of limited scope. Johnson’s dictionary was immensely popular and helped to regularize English orthography (i.e., spelling) and standardize the language. In this poem, Garrick frames Johnson as a warrior—a “hero of yore”— comparing his work, which took 9 years to complete, to that of the French Academy who employed 40 men to create a comprehensive French dictionary and took 30 years to complete, who are here no match for Johnson. Garrick, who is also responsible for elevating Shakespeare to the level of national poet, here praises the Bard along with Milton, Dryden, and Pope whose works have sent the French “verse-men” and “prose-men” to flight and retreat.

Beyond the Inkhorn Controversy

15) Elroy Avery. Words correctly spoken: short familiar talks with friends "Out West" by Elroy M. Avery, Ph.D. Cleveland, Ohio: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1887. Folger Sh.Misc. 530.

  • Avery’s short work contains sections on “New Words,” “Spurious Words,” “Articulation,” and “Slang” and is a continuation of the early modern purist stance on the English language. He cautions against adopting new words since for every “genuine word like ‘telegram’ there are a hundred verbal monstrosities like ‘excurted,’ ‘suicided’ and ‘enthused’” and he advocates for “words of Anglo-Saxon derivation rather than those of Latin origin; of short and common words rather than long and uncommon ones.” But, like his predecessors, Avery’s language is not free of Latinate words—both ‘monstrosities’ and ‘derivation’ are Latin borrowings that entered the English language in the early modern period. At this opening, Avery frames Shakespeare as the epitome of eloquence sharply contrasted through Avery’s translation of Bassanio’s description of Portia (Merchant of Venice) into slang, which he deems to be a “great modern nuisance…[that] should never be used.” While the Inkhorn Controversy had ended by the time Avery published this treatise, the debate about proper English usage continued, and still does today.


  1. Blank, Paula. Broken English: Dialects and the Politics of Language in Renaissance Writings (New York: Routledge, 1996), 18.
  2. “Ink-horn term” is first attested in 1543 ("ˈink-horn, n.". OED Online. March 2019. Oxford University Press. and “Inkhornism” first appears in 1597 ("ˈinkhornism, n.". OED Online. March 2019. Oxford University Press.
  3. Charles Barber, Early Modern English (London: W&J Mackay Limited, Chatham, 1976), 72.