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Chapter 12 - Samuel Johnson and the ‘First English Dictionary’

from Eighteenth-Century English Dictionaries: Prescriptivism and Completeness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2020

Sarah Ogilvie
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
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Summary

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755) has long had a reputation as the ‘first English dictionary’, despite the dozens of dictionaries that had appeared in the century and a half before Johnson’s. There are few ways in which Johnson’s book can be truly considered a ‘first’, since nearly all his contributions to dictionary-making had precedents in classical and European lexicography. He did, however, introduce some innovations in English lexicography, including grounding his wordlist in the works of English authors, discerning subtle shades of meaning in numbered senses, and providing extensive quotations showing the words in context. Together, these qualities made Johnson’s Dictionary, though not a chronological ‘first’, still the first English dictionary to be widely regarded as the standard of the English language.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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