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Lewis and Clark Lexicon of Discovery

Alan H. Hartley


Two hundred years have passed since the Corps of Discovery set out to explore uncharted territory. Many words penned by expedition members in their journals—argillaceous, clyster, and wapato, to name a few—are not commonly spoken, written, or understood today. This new reference volume takes readers on a fascinating voyage through the meanings, use, and metamorphosis of those now peculiar terms.

“No one who reads Hartley’s Lexicon of Discovery can ever read the journals quite the same way again.”—We Proceeded On


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What is a cataplasm, and what do you do with one? Would you be insulted if someone called you, “argillaceous?” Would you want someone to give you a clyster? Would you eat wappato? What does it mean when a canoe flacks? These are all words that were familiar to Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their companions, and were penned in their journals, but are less commonly used and understood today.

In addition, the lexicon explains words for which the definitions have now changed. For example, the word “mere” used to mean “absolute, downright.” Accordingly, in 1768, George Washington wrote in his diary that “it blew a mere Hurricane.” Meriwether Lewis followed the same connotation when he recorded, “a violent storm arrose…the rain fell in a mere torrent.” Yet in modern language, the sense of the word has evolved from “nothing less than,” to “nothing more than.” The lexicon also includes many words that were adopted from the French and Native American languages.

“The journals are a fascinating record of American English at the time of the greatest expansion in U.S. history,” states author Alan H. Hartley. He currently works as an independent lexicographer, editor, and researcher, and has contributed to the Oxford English Dictionary, New Oxford American Dictionary, and the Oxford American College Dictionary. Hartley spent more than five years researching the history, people, and physical world of the expedition, hoping to help modern readers better understand the language of the time and appreciate its sounds as well. His special emphasis on pronunciation will be especially valuable to historical re-enactors.

The volume features over 1,100 entries and more than 2,000 illustrative quotations, as well as considerable background material on the English (and other languages) of the expedition. A typical entry includes the headword, pronunciation, definition, cross reference, and the related journal quotation along with date, author, and citation information. This new title will long serve as an outstanding reference tool for the Corps of Discovery journals.

Illustrations / 192 pages (2004)


“The Lexicon is a nifty complement to the highly footnoted scholarly edition of The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, ed. by Gary Moulton…That the work is fun to browse testifies to the author’s success in his aim “to give the reader a feel for American English in the first years of the nineteenth century.”—CHOICE

“No one who reads Hartley’s Lexicon of Discovery can ever read the journals quite the same way again.”—We Proceeded On

“A book of great value for nonscholars interested in history, those who love language and those who just enjoy a good read.”—Statesman Review

“An important contribution to the body of scholarly work about the epic Lewis and Clark expedition. By focusing on the language and words themselves in the journals, this lexicon deals with an aspect of the expedition that has been largely overlooked by other scholars and writers. Alan Hartley’s lexicon is both a valuable reference book and an interesting read.”—Lawrence J. Sommer, Director, Nebraska State Historical Society

“A fascinating book, and absolutely essential for anyone interested in the history of America and the American language.”—Erin McKean, Editor in Chief, Oxford University Press, and Editor, Verbatim: The Language Quarterly 

“A clever resource for understanding this critical time in American history.”—American Reference Book Annual

Additional information

Weight N/A
Dimensions 6 x 9 in

Paperback, Spiral