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When did Samuel Johnson live?



What famous actor was once Johnson's pupil?

David Garrick


What year was his dictionary published?



How long did the dictionary take him to complete?

7 years


By what epithet is Johnson typically thought of?

The Great Generalizer; but what gave his generalizations strength is that they were rooted in the specificity of self-knowledge.


What is Johnson's "Theme of all themes"?

The dangerous power of wishful thinking and the distortion of reality by false hopes


How many words are in Johnson's dictionary?

40,000 words; 114,000 quotations from English writers


How does Johnson describe the language that he has tried to wrangle in his dictionary?

A tongue that has spread "into wild exuberance"


From where does Johnson take his examples?

From English writers


What is the word meaning "the study of the conventional spelling of a language"?



What two languages does Johnson see as the primary foreign sources of words? How did this impact he decisions about spelling?

French and Latin

If a word was derived from a foreign language, he used that language's spelling to help fix its English spelling. If he was unable to tell if a word was of Latin or French origin, he defaulted to French as the more influential language.


What are the two categories of etymology Johnson considers?

Primitive (he can find no earlier root than and English word)

Derivative (root in another language)


What does "Teutonic" mean?



What are Johnson's two main etymological aids?

Johnson and Skinner


From what period did Johnson attempt to mainly draw his examples? Which writer served as his boundary?

Pre-Restoration, especially the Elizabethan period; Sidney was his boundary for antiquity (tried not to go earlier than that)


What four factors does Johnson cite as contributing to language change?

- Commerce (intercourse with strangers, traveling)

- Innovation and New ideas

- Changing Customs

- New Opinions

He points out that the conditions a country would have to be in for its language not to change would not be very favorable.


What is, according to Johnson, the most prevalent kind of language change?

Cultural blending, including translation ("No book was ever turned from one language into another, without imparting something of its native idiom.")


On what specific topic does Johnson disagree with Swift's "A Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue"?

Swift argues (perhaps satirically) that, while new words should be admitted, no words should be allowed to become obsolete. Johnson argues that this process cannot be helped - it is part of the natural evolution of language.


Discuss Johnson's relationship with bookselling/publishing?

Unlike other writers of the time, like Pope, who thought that booksellers and publishers who wanted to make money off of writers were detestable and low-brow, Johnson - whose father was a bookseller - believed they created opportunities for writers and worked closely with them for his entire career. All of his big projects - the dictionary, the edition of Shakespeare, and his Lives of the Poets - were commissioned by publishers.


What contribution did Johnson make to Shakespeare scholarship?

In the past, Shakespeare had been criticized for not adhering to the classical unities. In his edition, Johnson praised Shakespeare for doing something better - adhering to real life, or nature. This idea would become influential for the Romantics later on.


What was the process of compiling the dictionary like?

Johnson selected what he thought were the best works in the language to read. When he came across an excerpt that he thought illuminated a word especially well, he marked it up. He would then give the books to his assistants, who would put everything in order.