Cat’s Cradle: Why You Should Know Samuel Johnson

Last Sunday marked the birthday of writer and writer Samuel Johnson. Born in 1709, Johnson was an English critic and writer whose influence on modern English is still evident to this day, ever since Johnson took on the task of cataloging the English language.

Although dictionaries were not a new concept in Johnson’s era, there was no universal dictionary of the English language. Instead, dictionaries were largely homemade or personal dictionaries ranging from hundreds. For Johnson, the necessity of creating a dictionary was the simple task of standardizing the language.

The short project quickly swelled, and as Johnson sought to write an authoritative English text, he instead created something equally analytical and opinionated. Johnson spent nearly ten years compiling 40,000 words and 114,000 text examples in a Dictionary of the English Language.

Johnson’s dictionary was a stepping stone in the language process, and is evident in the biases that Johnson extracted from writing. Below is a selection that illustrates Johnson’s opinion and the humor that comes from the definition.

Excise: a hated tax imposed on goods and judged not by the magistrates-general of property but by the wretched appointed by those to whom the excise is paid.

Johnson’s humor and opinion were criticized in his day, with selections from the autobiographical “Life of Samuel Johnson”. At one point Johnson offered a humorous apology for the poor choice of definitions since some words could not find a definition or could not separate out his biases.

Johnson’s legacy is felt throughout our cultural history. He has appeared in our memes as a character confusionIn the “Blackadder” drawing dated. Kurt Vonnegut’s review of the dictionary builds on Johnson’s legacy of satirizing the contemporary state of dictionaries, where words seem to be forgotten.

It would take another 173 years for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to make a similar attempt to catalog the language. However, the content and research conducted on the project will trump Johnson’s early work, which laid the foundations for providing a definition and example of definitions.

The Office of the CEO maintains a library and assets of more than 600,000 English words. Fifteen times more than Johnson’s original dictionary entries, OED remains an important source in etymology and vocabulary. Available to most college students (including OU) OED is a large database.

Since then, OED dictionaries have become more concise. Each new iteration adopts a set of necessary and common words to meet the needs of writers and scrabble players.

Although words are not erased from history because they are digitally available, their exclusion discourages discovery. New words are not pressed on the reader as with line-by-line scanning.

Dictionaries have changed since Johnson’s era. Although there was progress, there were steps back in the exclusion of the old words. Dictionaries become personal tools containing favorite words. Though, with the words dropped every year, one is reminded of Vonnegut. “Everyone associated with a new dictionary is not necessarily a new Samuel Johnson.”

Benjamin Ervin is a final year student studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the opinions and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him [email protected]

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