Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy birthday, Dr. Johnson!

Today is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Samuel Johnson, possibly the most important man to the English language who ever lived.

Dr. Johnson's most notable accomplishment among dozens is the creation of the the benchmark English dictionary. This was not the first English dictionary by any means, but it was so profoundly superior to the ones that had come before it, that it was a benchmark for English dictionaries until the first Oxford English Dictionary appeared 173 years later. What set Dr. Johnson's dictionary apart from earlier dictionaries was the size--the first edition of the dictionary contained a 42,773 word list, which was equaled by only one other previous work--and Johnson's use of 114,000 literary quotations to illustrate the the meanings and use of the words featured. Most importantly, though, his dictionary described English as it was used rather than merely as a lexicon of technical or obscure terms.

Dr. Johnson was a prolific writer, an exceptional critic, an essayist, and a biographer. My favorite quote has to do the with business of writing, as follows:
No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.

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2 comments:

Gary Farber said...

What did Johnson have to say about blogging?

I added a link to you here, btw.

And now I direct you to learn about my little-known relationship with Samuel Johnson.

Denise Kawaii said...

Above my desk (where I sit furiously typing away at all hours and in-between "regular life" projects) is a large framed poster that reads:

"The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business." - John Steinbeck

Words are the webbing in the world we live in. Although I wonder what Dr. Johnson would think of 'LOL' and 'IDFK' as suitable conversation.