Samuel Johnson created the first great English dictionary.
Johnson was a poet, essayist, critic, biographer, an editor, and most importantly (today anyway) – a lexicographer.
His 1755 dictionary was the first truly comprehensive dictionary of the language, and remained the gold standard until The Oxford English Dictionary of 1884 — but one of the best reasons to remember him is – dude was hilarious!
Some of Johnson’s entries are still a complete crack-up. In fact, he was so funny that his buddy Boswell spent 22 years basically just following him around, filling 18 volumes with his various ‘Samuelisms’, creating The Life of Samuel Johnson.
Samuel Johnson was so funny that the only person in the English language who’s quoted more often is Shakespeare.
To celebrate our fellow lover of lexicology, let’s giggle with some of Johnson’s most notable & quotable dictionary entries –
Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.
Cough: A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity.
Distiller: One who makes and sells pernicious and inflammatory spirits.
Dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries isdull work.
Excise: A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid.
Far-fetch: A deep stratagem. A ludicrous word.
Jobbernowl: Loggerhead; blockhead.
Kickshaw: A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.
Network: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections. (See how he defined ‘reticulated,’ below.)
Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.
Pastern: The knee of a horse. (This is wrong. When Johnson was once asked how he came to make such a mistake, Boswell tells us he replied,“Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.”)
Patron: One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.
Pension: An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.
Politician: 1. One versed in the arts of government; one skilled in politicks. 2. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.
Reticulated: Made of network; formed with interstitial vacuities.
Tory: One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig.
Whig: The name of a faction.
To worm: To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.
“It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.” —The Idler
“I have, all my life long, been lying till noon; yet I tell all young men, and tell them with great sincerity, that nobody who does not rise early will ever do any good.” —The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides
“At the tea table he had considerable demands upon his favorite beverage, and I remember when Sir Joshua Reynolds at my house reminded him that he had drank eleven cups, he replied — ‘Sir, I did not count your glasses of wine, why should you number up my cups of tea?’” —The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 2
“It can scarcely be candid not to make a previous declaration, that he is to expect little justice from the author of this extract, a hardened and shameless tea-drinker.” —A Journal of Eight Days’ Journey
How well do you think you know Samuel Johnson’s dictionary?