The Catholicon Anglicum is an English-to-Latin bilingual dictionary compiled in the late 15th century.
The Catholicon Anglicum was written in 1483. Its author was anonymous at the time of its writing in the 15th century, and remains unknown to the present day. From the dialect of English used, the author might have been a native of Yorkshire in the north of England.
Two copies of the dictionary are known to be still in existence, only one of which is complete. One of the dictionaries resides in the British Library; some of the leaves in this copy are missing. It has been edited from the manuscript no. 168 and has been collated with the manuscript additional no. 15562. The British Museum acquired it from the library of Lord Monson and it became Additional MS. 89074. The British Library is a successor organisation to the Museum, becoming a separate entity in 1973, when the Catholicon Anglicum became part of its collection rather than that of the museum. The second known copy, and only complete example, is held in a private collection.
In 2013, the complete copy of the Catholicon Anglicum was sold to a buyer outside of the United Kingdom for £92,500, so an export ban was subsequently placed on the book by then-culture minister Ed Vaizey after a recommendation from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England. The purchase price was eventually matched by the British Library, which purchased the book in March 2014, shortly before the expiration of the ban.
The Catholicon Anglicum is notable for being one of the earliest dictionaries in the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary stated that many important words in the English language such as diphthong were first attested in the Catholicon Anglicum.
The importance of the Catholicon Anglicum has been described by Ed Vaizey: "The manuscript is of outstanding significance for the history of the English language, which is fundamental to the identity and life of our nation."
Christopher Wright from the RCEWA has said:
This rare survival of a 15th-century English-Latin word list is one of the vital first steps on the road to the English dictionary as we know it today. Its anonymous author, possibly a Yorkshireman on the basis of some dialect words included, provides an invaluable witness to the English language as it existed in the second half of the 15th Century, and can claim an honourable place in the roll of famous lexicographers that stretches through Johnson and Murray into our own age.— Christopher Wright