A Dictionary of the English Language

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{work, book, publish}
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Published on 15 April 1755 and written by Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, sometimes published as Johnson's Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.

There was dissatisfaction with the dictionaries of the period, so in June 1746 a group of London booksellers contracted Johnson to write a dictionary for the sum of 1,500 guineas (£1,575), equivalent to about £230,000 as of 2011.[1] Johnson took nearly nine years to complete the work, although he had claimed he could finish it in three. Remarkably, he did so single-handedly, with only clerical assistance to copy out the illustrative quotations that he had marked in books. Johnson produced several revised editions during his life.

Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary, 173 years later, Johnson's was viewed as the pre-eminent English dictionary. According to Walter Jackson Bate, the Dictionary "easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who labored under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time".

Contents

Background

A hundred years earlier, books had been regarded with something approaching veneration, but by the mid-eighteenth century this was no longer the case. The rise of literacy among the general public, combined with the technical advances in the mechanics of printing and bookbinding, meant that for the first time, books, texts, maps, pamphlets and newspapers were widely available to the general public at a reasonable cost. Such an explosion of the printed word demanded a set pattern of grammar, definition, and spelling for those words. This could be achieved by means of an authoritative dictionary of the English language. In 1746, a consortium of London's most successful printers, including Robert Dodsley and Thomas Longman – none could afford to undertake it alone – set out to satisfy and capitalise on this need by the ever increasing reading and writing public.

Johnson's dictionary was not the first English dictionary, nor even among the first dozen. Over the previous 150 years more than twenty dictionaries had been published in England, the oldest of these being a Latin-English "wordbook" by Sir Thomas Elyot published in 1538.

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