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'Propagating what the Ancients taught and the moderns improved': The Sources of George Motherby's A New Medical Dictionary; or, a General Repository of Physic, 1775
R. W. McConchie
123-133 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Medical dictionaries must both describe the lexicon of their specialism and convey both new and established knowledge for the use of practitioners. Since the first appearance of medical dictionaries in English, the balance between these has been in a state of flux, especially because of the emphasis placed on the received wisdom of earlier periods in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The author wishes to examine the extent to which Motherby either accepts or modifies the authorities which he relies on in constructing his entries and the changes from previous works. The article examines the extent to which these elements of his dictionary reflect up-to-date medical knowledge. Does he rely heavily on the ancients, or abandon them in preference for more recent writers, and who are these modern authorities? Can a frequency analysis of his references reveal patterns in his reliance on the works of others? This article shows that references to the ancients are numerous, but that those to the moderns do in fact outweigh them. The author also suggests that Motherby shows an increasing tendency to rely on individual works on specific subjects as the authorities he cites become more recent, since the numbers of references to individual authors tends to fall rather than rise as they become contemporaneous. Older modern references, such as those to John Ray, tend to be to major reference works, and Motherby also tends to avoid derivative compilations.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 2008 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis (HEL-LEX 2)
edited by R. W. McConchie, Alpo Honkapohja, and Jukka Tyrkkö
Table of contents
Printed edition: $220.00