This is a Texty Tuesdays post, looking at different types of text from the printed word to blogs to things you scribble when you’re bored.
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was not the first dictionary.
I mean, before that there were dozens of dictionaries.
The Cockeram’s English Dictionarie or An Interpreter of Hard English Words, for example: “the choisest words themselues now in vse, wherewith our Language is inriched and become so copious, to which words the common sense is annexed” along side “the vulgar words, which whensoever any desirous of a more curious explanation by a more refined and elegant speech shall looke into, he shall there receiue the exact and ample word to expresse the same.”
That is, normal words with more pretentious versions for people who care a lot about how they talk and want to seem intelligent.
Some of these words are acceptable (“crowd”, for instance), but if someone told me they were considering deambulating in Spain this summer, I would worry for their health, not envy their superior intelligence.
Other examples from Cockeram’s Dictionarie include “pistated” meaning baked, “simistulated”, meaning half burnt and “contumlate”, to bury.
As much as this might seem laughable to us, the book was so popular that 12 editions were released.
I get the impression that people were a little too preoccupied with others’ opinions of them…
The difference between Cockeram’s Dictionarie, and others like it, and Johnson’s was that Cockeram’s was more of a translator for rising classes of the 18th century.
Johnson’s was the first dictionary in the sense that we know today. He attempted to define every word in the English language, single-handedly.
Today, he’s known for a scattering of humorous definitions he added to stop himself from dying of boredom:
Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words
Patron: One who countenances, supports, of protects. commonly a Wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery.
Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.
Ruse: Cunning; artifice, little stratagem; trick; wile; fraud; deceit. A French word neither elegant nor necessary.
Being Scottish, I’m giving no comment on the above.
Johnson’s Dictionary had an incredible influence on the English language. Ever heard of the English Academy? No? That’s because Johnson’s Dictionary put a stop to that. Jonathan Swift was pushing for an English Academy, a group of grammarians with sticks up their behinds telling us the rules of English. Basically our version of l’Académie Française.
Johnson did a lot to standardise spelling, simply by choosing a particular spelling of a word. This, and the fact that he included pronunciation guidelines for each word, and examples from well-known and respected writers, meant that an English Academy would no longer be needed. Johnson was the first to use quotation – from Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden, commonly.
Johnson claimed that he could finish the project in three years. L’Académie Française had forty scholars spending forty years to complete its dictionary. Johnson is said to have commented; “This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman”.
The Dictionary actually took Johnson 9 years of constant work. After it was published in April 1755, it was the guide to the English Language for the next 150 years, until the Oxford English Dictionary came into being.