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Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary:
Selections from the 1755 Work That Defined the English Language

edited by Jack Lynch

Levenger Press

© 2002 by Jack Lynch for new text matter, including selection of entries and correction of typographical errors, [etc.]


Preface to the Dictionary
by Samuel Johnson

It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.

Among those unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths of Learning and Genius, who press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other authour may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompence has been yet granted to very few….


A few definitions from Johnson’s Dictionary:


curmudgeon (It is a vitious manner of pronouncing coeur méchant, Fr. an unknown correspondent) An avaritious churlish fellow; a miser; a niggard; a churl; a griper. [From Dictionary editor Jack Lynch’s notes: “Coeur méchant is French for ‘bitter heart,’ a suggestion (regarding the word's etymology) Johnson received from (Fr.) ‘an unknown correspondent.’ In 1775, a lexicographer named John Ash misread the entry and blundered by giving the etymology as ‘from the French coeur, unknown, and méchant, a correspondent.’” Modern dictionaries provide no etymology for curmudgeon; its origin is unknown. —B.L.]


network: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections. [Lynch’s note: This definition…is often singled out as an example of Johnson’s preposterously latinate diction….]

oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.


Observations from the Ed
., having first to do with this book’s publisher, Levenger Press, and then, and more importantly, with Johnson’s cat, Hodge: Levenger first. This is a beautifully produced book with informative notes by a Johnson scholar, Jack Lynch. But there is a peculiar omission in this dictionary, peculiar even for a dictionary published by an outfit known more for selling luxury leather goods than for publishing books: there are no accent marks for the etymological entries in Attic Greek and French. And both Attic Greek and French require accents. Peculiar. Using my extensive knowledge of French derived from my studies at a Tennessee military school fifty years ago, I have provided un accent aigu pour méchant.

That omission aside, the book is edited by a distinguished Johnson scholar and is aesthetically very pleasing, with silhouettes of Johnson’s cat, Hodge, adorning each letter’s introductory page.

And with the mention of cat I’m given a chance to quote James Boswell in his “Life of Johnson” on Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge.

“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson's breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, 'Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;' and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, 'but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”


From L.L. Bean Holiday catalog. Junque is junque, even when found in the estimable Bean.

Green? Did someone mention green? Celebs yammering away. It's too many people and too much junque. Too many people. Green that.

Statue of the cat Hodge
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