The age of dictionaries


During the 1700s, there was a great craze for books teaching 'correct' grammar, pronunciation and spelling. Many scholars, teachers and fuddy-duddy old men felt that the British should follow strict rules when it came to the English language. They thought that all people should learn to use the language 'properly', and many books were published outlining new sets of rules.

Samuel Johnson published his famous dictionary in 1755. The dictionary took over eight years to compile, required six helpers, and listed 40,000 words. In Johnson's view the English language was in a terrible mess, and was in great need of discipline. He hoped that his dictionary would help stabilise the rules governing the English language. Johnson did recognise, however, that new words, pronunciations and spellings are constantly appearing, and that it is impossible to stop a language from changing and evolving - rules will always be bent and broken.

Johnson was a very pompous man and, in the process of compiling his dictionary, he decided that many words were not good enough for the book - words such as bang, budge, fuss, gambler, shabby and touchy. Imagine that you were creating a dictionary. You have decided only to include the words you like. Which words would you put into the dictionary, and which would you leave out?