Johnson's Dictionary

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  • Intro

    Samuel Johnson's 'Dictionary of the English Language' is one of the most famous dictionaries in history. First published in 1755, the dictionary took just over eight years to compile and listed 40,000 words. Johnson required only six helpers. Each word was defined in detail; the definitions illustrated with quotations covering every branch of learning. It was a huge scholarly achievement, more extensive and complex than any of its predecessors - the comparable French Dictionnarre had taken 55 years to compile and required the dedication of 40 scholars.

     

    This page defines 23 love-related words, including loveapple, lovemonger, lovesecret and lovetoy. The audio extract is from Johnson's preface to the dictionary, in which he discusses the ways in which languages change over time. However much a lexicographer may want to fix or 'embalm' his language, he cannot prevent the inevitable flow of new words, phrases and pronunciations. Johnson writes: 'When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another...we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay.'

     

    Shelfmark: 680.k.12,13

  • Audio

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  • Transcript

    Audio transcript

    Read from the Preface to Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language:

     

    Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design, require that it should fix our language, and put a stop to those alterations which time and chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can justify. When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary nature, or clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation.

     

    With this hope, however, academies have been instituted, to guard the avenues of their languages, to retain fugitives, and repulse intruders; but their vigilance and activity have hitherto been vain; sounds are too volatile and subtile for legal restraints; to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strength.

Find out more about the Johnson's Dictionary Here

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