Johnson’s Dictionary

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary was published in 1755. The project that he thought would only take him a year by himself, actually took him just over eight years to complete with the help of six others. By the time the dictionary was published, Johnson and his helps had collected 40,000 words. Each word was defined in detail and included quotations. Johnson’s dictionary, at the time, was considered the most complex and extensive dictionary; even compared the French Dictonnarre which took 55 years to complete with 40 people working on it. There are over 114,000 quotations in Johnson’s dictionary. He was the first English lexicographer (a person who complies dictionaries) to use citations; since then, every dictionary after Johnsons uses citations. Johnson was an avid reader, so he gathered the vast majority of words he included in the dictionary, from books that he read dating back a far as the 1500’s. He used quotes from some famous writers like Shakespeare and Milton. Because he used books he liked, a lot of the words and quotations used in the dictionary reflect Johnsons taste in literature. One of the major issues with Johnsons dictionary is that, when he did not like a specific quotation he had found, he would twist or rewrite the quotation so that it would fit the word with what he thought it meant. This is why people discredit his dictionary. Book-sellers commissioned Johnsons dictionaries in hope that it would provide the English language with a set of rules. Some of the pros of Johnsons dictionary was that, “It exhibited the English vocabulary much more fully than had ever been done before. It offered a spelling, fixed even if sometimes badly, that could be accepted as standard. it supplied thousands of quotations illustrating the use of words . . .” (266 A History of the English Language). However, according to critics, Johnsons dictionary included some words and definitions that were considered questionable, the etymologies were flawed, and too many of the definitions were skewed because of his biases and whims. Another big issue people had with his dictionary is that, “many of the words he included were incomprehensible to the average reader – long words such as ‘deosculation’, ‘odontalgick’” (1755 = Johnson’s Dictionary). When reading Johnsons dictionary, one could see Johnsons character displayed throughout his writing. In his writing, he was very pompous, as if he did not want people to understand, or he wanted to seem more educated than he actually was. Lastly, some of his definitions of words were very offensive to some people (example: the Scots and the word Oats). No matter the flaws, Johnsons dictionary was, “enormously popular and highly respected for its epic sense of scholarship” (1755 = Johnson’s Dictionary).

Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. A history of the English language. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. Print.

“1755 – Johnson’s Dictionary.” THE BRITISH LIBRARY – The world’s knowledge., 13 Dec. 2005. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

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