Monday, September 18, 2017
Google Doodle honours Samuel Johnson, father of modern dictionary, on 308th birthday
Google Doodle pays homage to Samuel Johnson, a British lexicographer, published the Johnson’s: A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. At 18-inches tall, the dictionary was described as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship,” and had a far-reaching effect on modern English.
Now you might google a word for its meaning, but long before 1996 (or 1998, depending on which year you credit the birth of Google, the project or the company), there was the not-so-humble dictionary. If you needed to check a word, its meaning or pronunciation, that’s where you’d have to go. Which is what makes today’s Google doodle a tad bit ironical as it honours Samuel Johnson, known as the father of the modern dictionary, on his 308th birthday.
The British lexicographer – a person who compiles dictionaries – published the Johnson’s: A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. It took him nine years to compile the book (and it is said he sat only after noon to work on it), which he’d initially intended to finish in three. It was described as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship,” and had a far-reaching effect on modern English. The man himself has been described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”.
Born in 1709 to a bookseller and his wife in Staffordshire, England, Johnson’s dictionary was called ‘colossal’ at nearly 18 inches tall, and was the premier English dictionary till the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928 (this was when the last volume was published. The first was out in 1884). Though, it’s important to note that Johnson’s was not the first dictionary, but the ones that preceded him were of poor quality, while the committed Tory’s version had wit and the explanations were quite entertaining.
Sample this, “Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words”; “Dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work”.
According to the Google Doodle team, “Johnson was also a poet, essayist, critic, biographer and editor. Johnson’s dictionary was more than just a word list: his work provided a vast understanding of 18th century’s language and culture. His lasting contributions guaranteed him a place in literary history.”
Johnson’s dictionary is said to have just 42,773 entries, compared to more than 250,000 words in the English language, and was reportedly sold at a £4 10s at the time (which is said to be equivalent to £350, or Rs 30,500, today).