The Hidden Life of Dictionaries

April 2nd, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

For those of us for whom dictionaries always were, it is hard to fathom a time when they weren’t. Yet it stands to reason that even dictionaries had to be created — that it took so long is almost baffling. We will assume that the lack of electricity had something to do with this. Still, the self-described indolent Samuel Johnson managed to oversee the process, becoming famous in the process:

For more than half a century the English intellectual world had been mortified by the lack of a major English dictionary. The great national dictionaries had been produced by Italy and France, the former in 1612 and the latter completed in 1700. It seemed impossible that anyone in England could tackle the magnitude of such a task. A schoolmaster called Nathan Bailey had made a good attempt in 1721, but it dealt primarily with the origin of words. Some definitions were on the casual side, for example, “Horse – beast well-known”. Johnson supplies five definitions, including “Joined to another substantive it signifies something large and coarse, as in horse-face”.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs