Sunday, July 17, 2005

Johnson's Dictionary

Rutgers English professor Jack Lynch has 7/2/05 op-ed piece in the New York Times on occasion of 250th anniversary of Samuel Johnson's dictionary. Compares Johnson's achievement favorably with that of Noah Webster, whose celebrated 1828 dictionary turns out to be little more than "a terse utilitarian spelling guide." Despite Webster's patriotic credentials, it is still Johnson to whom constitutional lawyers and supreme court justices turn when they want to know the original meaning of 18th century words. Ironically, Johnson had little affection for the American adventure, especially as it pertained to slavery and money-grubbing. "I am willing to love all mankind, except an American," he wrote. "They are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging." Webster, for his part (according to David Littlejohn, 1971) was disgusted by Johnson for using the profane Shakespeare has one of his principle authorities.

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