The great Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was first published 261 years ago today, on 15 April 1755. Its two volumes defined a total of 42,773 words, illustrated by 114,000 literary quotations (the majority from Shakespeare), and unlike dictionaries today, it was infused throughout with Johnson’s own personality and humour.
Words that he personally disliked or thought unimportant were omitted (so out went recent French loanwords like champagne and bourgeois), as was the letter X, which he bluntly explained in a note on page 2,308 “begins no word in the English language.” The definitions too were full of Johnson’s wit and wisdom:
As an example of how to use the word DULL, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary stated, “to make dictionaries is dull work”.— Haggard Hawks (@HaggardHawks) 16 October 2015
Under the word HISS, Johnson’s Dictionary says that “it is remarkable this word cannot be pronounced without making the noise it signifies.”— Haggard Hawks (@HaggardHawks) 9 April 2015
Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755) defined a BULLY as "a noisy, blustering, quarrelling fellow", who "has only the appearance of courage".— Haggard Hawks (@HaggardHawks) 24 May 2014
Samuel Johnson's Dictionary defined a SOCK as "something put between the foot and shoe".— Haggard Hawks (@HaggardHawks) 28 November 2014
And who, of course, could forget this:
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary defined TRUMPERY as ‘something of less value than it seems’. pic.twitter.com/DU9GHz2mBJ— Haggard Hawks (@HaggardHawks) 25 February 2016
Or, indeed, this:
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary defines a POLITICIAN as “a man of artifice”.— Haggard Hawks (@HaggardHawks) 14 April 2015
Johnson was paid the princely sum of 1,500 guineas (equivalent to more than £200,000 today) to compile the work, which he did so single-handedly over nine years, with assistants only ever brought in to reproduce pages and copy out quotations. It was, frankly, a monumental achievement and remained the standard English dictionary for the next 150 years.
So in honour of the anniversary of Johnson’s wonderful contribution to our language, this week on the HH YouTube channel we’ve picked 10 long-forgotten words from his dictionary that deserve to be revived:
As explained in the video, that doesn’t mean that Johnson is personally responsible for coining these words (although it’s thought that a number of his entries were his own invention), nor that his dictionary provides us with their earliest written record. Instead, these are just words that were included in his Dictionary but which have long since disappeared from the language—and more than deserve to be recovered.