Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of Disdain

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A common word of warning for those who might be inclined to argue with someone who writes or edits a newspaper is, “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” This advice is particularly valuable when applied toward anyone who has the ability to influence an entire language.

A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1775. The author and editor was Dr. Samuel Johnson. he was identified in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history.” He used his reputation and influence to address his dissatisfaction with the dictionaries of his day by producing what would become one of the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.

In the process, there were times when he was less than unbiased. Among the definitions of the 42,773 words listed in the book, he was not above throwing in a bit of editorial comment. The following are just a few of the more memorable definitions provided by Dr. Johnson:

Samuel Johnson

Anatiferous: adj. [from anas and fero, Lat.] Producing ducks.

Camelopard: n.s. [from camelus and pardus, Lat.] An Abyssinian animal, taller than an elephant, but not so thick. He is so named, because he has a neck and head like a camel; he is spotted like a pard, but his spots are white upon a red ground. The Italians call him giaraffa.

Cynanthropy: n.s. [ϰυων ϰυνος, and ανϑϱωπος.] A species of madness in which men have the qualities of dogs.

Dull: adj. [ dwl, Welsh; dole, Saxon; dol, mad, Dutch.] Not exhilarating; not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work

Excise: n.s. [ accijs, Dutch; excisum, Latin.] A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid.

Fart: n.s. [ fert, Saxon.] Wind from behind.

Gynecocracy: n.s. [γυναιϰοϰϱατία; gynecocratie, French.] Petticoat government; female power.

Lexicographer: n.s. [λεξιϰὸν and γϱάφω; lexicographe, French.] A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

Lunch: n.s. [ Minshaw derives it from louja, Spanish; Skinner from kleinken, a small piece, Teutonick. It probably comes from clutch or clunch.] As much food as one’s hand can hold.

Monsieur, n.s. [French]: A term of reproach for a Frenchman.

Mouth-friend: n.s. [mouth and friend.] One who professes friendship without intending it.

Nidorosity:n.s. [from nidorous.] Eructation with the taste of undigested roast-meat. (In other words, a burp.)

Oatsn. f. [Saxon] A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

Pastern: n.s. [ pasturon, French.] The knee of an horse. (This is wrong. When Johnson was once asked how he came to make such a mistake, Boswell tells us he replied, “Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.”)

An excerpt from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language

Pension: n.s. [ pension, Fr.] An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.

Politician: n.s. [ politicien, Fr.] One versed in the arts of government; one skilled in politicks. 2. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.

Scelerat: n.s. [French; sceleratus, Latin.] A villain; a wicked wretch. A word introduced unnecessarily from the French by a Scottish author.

Slubberdegullion, n.s. [I suppose a cant word without derivation.] A paltry, dirty, sorry wretch.

Trolmydames: n.s. [Of this word I know not the meaning.]

Watermelon, n.s. A plant. It hath trailing branches, as the cucumber or melon, and is distinguished from other cucurbitaceous plants, by its leaf deeply cut and jagged, and by its producing uneatable fruit.

Look up words and learn more about Samuel Adams and his dictionary at Johnson Dictionary Online.

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