Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Happy (Belated) Birthday English Spelling

Friday was the 250th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language, nine years after the Good Doctorand therefore of modern spelling.

The Guardian has a nice bio. of the Good Doctor, "An established man of letters, famous for his epitaphs, his parliamentary debates, his translations of the Odes of his favourite poet, Horace, numerous essays written for the Gentleman's Magazine and for his epic poem, 'The Vanity of Human Wishes'."

While not the very first dictionary of the English language, Dr. Johnson's Dictionary can justifiably be called the first modern English dictionary. It redeemed English language and English scholarship, which had lacked lagged behind in creating a modern dictionary. Johnson's dictionary was the first Engish dictionary to use quotations to illustrate its usages, with terms "illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best authors." It defined more than 40,000 words, a number paltry by comparison with the

Here, pulled from World Wide Words, we present a selection of Dr. Johnson's more idiosyncratic (and famous) definitions:

EXCISE: a hateful tax levied upon commodities.
DISTILLER: One who makes and sells pernicious and inflammatory spirits.
OATS: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.
LEXICOGRAPHER: A maker of dictionaries, a harmless drudge.

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