Monday, 2 May 2011

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary was not the first attempt at creating a dictionary of the English language, but it was the first serious attempt by someone who was a skilled lexicographer.

It was first published in the year of 1755. This new, latest edition, is not the full version, it is a special edited version produced by Jack Lynch, with selected highlights from the original work.

The original publication was 2,300 pages of definitions of words published in two volumes. So useful was it that it remained the definitive dictionary of English for at last 150 to 200 years. The Jack Lynch version is considerably smaller, one volume with only 646 pages.

The book starts with an introduction from Steven Leveen, the president of the Levnger Press, which explains why they decided to publish a new edition of the dictionary. There is also a fulsome three quarter page of acknowledgements from Jack Lynch, followed by 22 pages of introduction from Jack Lynch, including some basic guidelines of how to actually read the dictionary.

There is then a re-print of the original preface by Samuel Johnson, which goes much of the way to describe how and why he decided to take upon himself this Honorius responsibility to create THE English dictionary.

However, people must not form the conclusion that the dictionary only contains English words. There are numerous cross-references to Greek, Latin, French, Welsh, etc, throughout the dictionary, to help explain the derivation of the word in question.

The dictionary also has many words that are long gone from most people's everyday English. In fact some were heading a gentle decline even in the time of Dr Johnson himself.

As well as giving the definition of a word, Johnson also gave examples of it in use in literature, poetry, etc. A method still employed to this day in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Also we can see that some words have changed their usage over the year. For example, cadger meant a huckster, a person who brings butter, eggs, and from the market. We now have a totally meaning for that word.

To Cabbage was a slang (cant) word amongst taylors (sic) which meant to steal in cutting clothes.
I was intrigued to note that go-cart was included, though the description was somewhat different from the modern go-cart: "A machine in which children are inclosed (sic) to teach them to walk, and which they push forward without danger of falling."

There are other words that are no longer common, more's the pity! Belly-timber for food, and buffleheaded a man with a large head or someone who is dull and stupid.

Jack Lynch includes a bibliography and index, suggested reading material, etc.

In the UK it is published in hardback by Atlantic Press and costs £19.99.

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