Samuel Johnson once wrote: “Dictionaries are like watches. The worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.” Johnson`s single handed attempt to define the English language in book form, encompassed a phenominal 42,773 entries, whilst in the constant grip of anxiety attacks and deep depression. If Johnson was not a well and happy bunny, the English language came out of it with a full bill of health. There had been dictionaries before, but none boasted quite the breadth and depth of Johnson`s magnum opus. His definitions are pungent and typically forthright.

Dull: Not exhilerating; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.

Monsieur: A term of reproach for a Frenchman.

Novel: A small tale; generally of love.

Shabby: Mean and paltry( a word which has crept into conversation and low writing).

To Worm: To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under the tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.


Reading the dictionary enables us to refract the character of Johnson and his society through the language of the dictionary itself. By the 18th century, a standardised, and authoritative dictionary had become a matter of national urgency and importance. The spread of England`s culture, commercial and military interests across the world, was in the process of making English a global language. This tiny island on the northern tip of Europe, ignored for centuries as of no consequence in the greater order of things, was flexing it`s muscles, discovering a voice; self confidence was flooding through the long ossified veins of England as it began to converse with the world on it`s own terms; it`s commercial and military dominions expanding, bringing back wealth and influence into the national coffers. England was jockeying for pole position as the premier mover and shaker in world politics. Johnson tapped into this new national confidence by attempting to show what made England the great country it had become; he knew that it`s literary heritage was at least as good as anybody else`s, and so, we can argue how Johnson`s background as poet, playwright, essayist and journalist made his dictionary an important work of literature in it`s own right.

17191_512After all, he was a voracious reader, and he knew intimately the works of Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden; he was an iconic English national treasure, who epitomised the English character, culture and language.  Samuel Johnson`s dictionary is one of those rare works of literary genius which defined the world. As far as Johnson and his contemporaries were concerned, it was the natural order of things that God was an Englishman……..And as such, has remained so ever since, in the national psyche.johnson

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