Did One Man Write The First Great English Dictionary All By Himself?


English Dictionary

Who wrote the first English dictionary?

Samuel Johnson created a widely imitated style of biography and literary criticism in addition to setting the meticulous tone of reference books. His cause was to make English, especially the great classics, accessible for all readers. His dictionary was the first book to address English as it was written and spoken. It was the first to include context-based information about English. And, it was the first to attempt to enforce a Standard ofspelling and grammar upon unruly English, which had no equivalent of an academy to defend its use as proper or improper.
To understand Johnson’s undertaking, it’s important to understand the state of English lexicography in the middle of the 18th century. There were a handful of glossaries of difficult words, but overall, there was no reference for the English reader to consult words one might encounter on a day-to-day basis. In addition, books were becoming widely available and literacy in England was growing.

Several book publishers got together and commissioned Johnson to compile a dictionary similar to the one created by the French Academy. In France, that effort took 40 scholars 40 years to complete. Johnson, in a barb aimed at the supposed inferiority of the French, said he could do it in three: “This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.”
It took Johnson nine years to complete.


How big was the first dictionary?

The dictionary was huge: Its bulk was made up of the finest paper available, printed on pages cut to 18 inches in height. At the time, only special editions of the Bible had been printed on anything nearly so extravagant. Flipping open to any page, the curious reader could scan double columns of small type. Entries included a definition and a full-length quotation from a literary source. Notes on the word’s usage provided a context.
The original included 42,773 entries with 114,000 literary examples. The examples were the only portion of the dictionary that about half a dozen assistants helped in compiling.
More than two centuries later, the influence of Johnson’s Dictionary on lexicography remains evident in the way dictionaries are compiled and constructed today.

As a young boy, Johnson exhibited great intelligence and eagerness to read and learn.
At 25-years-old Johnson married Elizabeth Porter who was a 46-year-old widow. He was a schoolteacher and eventually opened his own private school – but he had only three pupils. Before Johnson was a lexicographer he wrote the historical tragedy Irene and he gave up educating in favour of being an author. Johnson was a good friend of poet Richard Savage and wrote the biography Life Of Mr Richard Savage after he died which is considered an innovative work in the history of biography. 
After a series of illnesses, he died on the evening of 13 December 1784, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. In the years following his death, Johnson began to be recognised as having had a lasting effect on literary criticism, and he was claimed by some to be the only truly great critic of English literature.

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