A Dictionary of the English Language
                        A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson
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About This Project

Introduction · Volunteer Force · Recommended Reading

Introduction

Dictionaries and reference works have long been a passion of mine. I had encountered references to Samuel Johnson's seminal dictionary, first published in 1755, quite often, and, after reading entries like Lexicographer and Grubstreet, I naturally wanted to read more, but I became frustrated when I realized that there was not an easily (or freely) accessible and complete version of the dictionary available in print or online.

This project, begun on the 17. November 2010, will attempt to create a digital and easily searchable version of the first edition of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. It will hopefully provide an interesting and useful resource to all those interested in 16th-18th century English literature (Spenser, Shakespeare, Locke, etc.), lexicographiles, lovers of quotations, visitors who land here by chance, etc. For this project, I am following the 2 volume first edition (published in 1755), specifically these three copies (the first two are available via library subscription; the third is a facsimile):

  • Microfilm Scan from the British Library: Johnson, Samuel. A dictionary of the English language; in which the words are deduced from their originals and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed, a history of the language, and an English grammar. By Samuel Johnson, A. M. In two volumes. London, MDCCLV. [1755]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Gale Document #CB128752482. Access provided by Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Microfilm Scan from Kress Library of Business and Economics, Harvard University: Johnson, Samuel. A dictionary of the English language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed, a history of the language, and an English grammar. London, 1755. 2 vols. The Making of the Modern World. Gale 2011. Gale, Cengage Learning. Gale Document #U109812327. Access provided by Washington University.

  • Facsimile: Johnson, Samuel. A dictionary of the English language: in which the words are deduced from their originals and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed, a history of the language, and an English grammar. By Samuel Johnson, A. M. In two volumes. London, MDCCLV. [1755] AMS Press, INC. New York, 1967.

This is a hobby for me, so it will progress slowly, but I look forward to getting to read the entirety of Johnson's amazing dictionary.

Notice a mistake? Find an entry particularly amusing? Have an interesting quote to accompany a particular word? Please feel free to offer comments, suggestions, edits, or random thoughts and feelings in the comments sections or by contacting me directly.

- Brandi


Volunteer Force

I am very thankful for the numerous volunteers who help with transcribing and error-checking.

Want to join their ranks?


Recommended Reading

  • DeMaria, Jr, Robert. Johnson's Dictionary and the Language of Learning. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

  • Hitchings, Henry. Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson's Dictionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

  • Kolb, Gwin J. and Robert DeMaria (Editors). Johnson on the English Language. The Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 18. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

  • Lynch, Jack. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary: Selections from the 1755 Work That Defined the English Language. London: Atlantic Books, 2004.

  • Lynch, Jack. The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English from Shakespeare to South Park. New York: Walker & Company, 2009.

  • Martin, Peter. Samuel Johnson: A Biography. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.

  • Morton, Tom. Dr Johnson's Dictionary of Modern Life. Survey, Definition & justify'd Lampoonery of divers contemporary Phenomena, from Top Gear unto Twitter. London: Square Peg (Random House), 2010. See @DrSamuelJohnson.

Cite this page: "About This Project." A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: February 13, 2014. http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/?page_id=47.


  1. I admire and cheer for your efforts!

  2. Jeff X on December 30th, 2010 at 10:44 am
  3. Do you know how much the 2 volume 1755 printed version weighs?

  4. Sandi Edgar on April 6th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
  5. According to Paul Groves, “The first edition was a cumbersome 2,300-page volume weighing about 22lbs, the weight of a large turkey.”

    Source: “Johnson’s Dictionary: Dr Johnson’s World in Just 42,773 Words; Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is 250 Years Old.” Birmingham Post, April 9, 2005, p. 43-44.

    Henry Hitchings (quoted by Groves at various times in the above article) states that the first edition was “around twenty pounds.” (Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, p. 209 – The book is listed under Recommended Reading).

  6. Brandi on April 6th, 2011 at 10:19 pm
  7. When this is completed you should consider having it incorporated into other online dictionaries. I often visit the Wordnik website, which uses ten different dictionaries, and I always thought it would be great if Johnson’s dictionary were included.

  8. duckbill on April 20th, 2011 at 2:33 am
  9. I do not see any information identifying who exactly — or what organization — is behind this project. Do I sense the fine non-Italian hand of Jack Lynch here?

    Woderful effort. Your project in fact has great usefulness to genealogists and family historians researching British (or colonial) ancestors of the time. We often come across words and usages we are not familiar with. Thank you for providing a fine reference.

  10. Karen Rhodes on April 29th, 2011 at 2:05 pm
  11. I’m glad that the project is so helpful to you all. If there are any words you come across in your genealogical research, which I haven’t added yet, please let me know and I’ll add them right away.

    This project is done entirely by myself. My name is Brandi and I’m a graduate student studying German literature. I really like dictionaries and encyclopedias, and I find Johnson’s Dictionary particularly fascinating. This project is something I work on in my free time – it acts as a wonderful stress reducer. Jack Lynch isn’t involved (I’m flattered you thought he was!), but he has thanked me for taking up this project, and I have really enjoyed his books.

  12. Brandi on April 29th, 2011 at 10:35 pm
  13. Thank you very much! This dictionary is what I just become interested in and want to borrow from the library. Fortunately, now I can read through it online.

  14. Valerie Lang on May 13th, 2011 at 12:41 am
  15. Excellent! Hope that you have visited us at Samuel Johnson’s Birthplace in Lichfield!
    IF not then you would be made very welcome!

  16. David TItley on August 27th, 2011 at 9:13 am
  17. In the sample entry “lexicographer” after the illus.quotation, “Watt’s” has the apostrophe in the wrong place and therefore is misspelled. Look at the original which is correct (of course!) “Watts’s”……you must be so careful with apostrophes–so easy to make a mistake; but vitally important!

  18. Louise T. Smith on January 5th, 2012 at 5:19 pm
  19. Unfortunately unintentional typos slip in from time to time. The error has now been fixed.

  20. Brandi on January 5th, 2012 at 5:21 pm
  21. Hats off to you, Brandi! I am teaching Lexicography and stumbled upon your project accidentally.

  22. Attila on April 22nd, 2012 at 3:16 pm
  23. I’ve just stumbled on this site while doing some research away from my usual access to ECCO – Thank you so much, Brandi – I hope this is still ongoing – what a service!

  24. Lailarae on June 26th, 2012 at 9:35 am
  25. I am trying to find out what typeface the original 1755 book was set it. Do t=you know, or know where I might be able to find out?

    Thanks!

  26. Stephanie Igou on September 20th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
  27. The answer to this question (or the closest I can come to one) can be found in the essay “The typographic design of Johnson’s Dictionary” by Paul Luna in Anniversary Essays on Johnson’s Dictionary, edited by Jack Lynch and Anne McDermott.

    “In type design, the faces cut by William Caslon in the 1720s and 1730s provided a systematic (though not wholly uniform) set of related roman, italic, and small-cap founts in a full range of sizes. [...] Johnson’s printer, William Strahan, bought his types from the Scottish typefounder Alexander Wilson, who offered faces ‘conformable to the London types,’ in other words close in design to those of Caslon.” (p. 179)

  28. Brandi on September 20th, 2012 at 4:42 pm
  29. Brandi: You are my hero. What a wonderful project. I have been looking for an unabridged version of the good Doctor’s masterpiece for years, so imagine my surprise when I found one online. My favorite use to which to put Dr. Johnson’s dictionary is when reading the original writings of the Founding Fathers. As Gordon Wood has pointed out, the meaning of what they said is often misunderstood when we apply 21st century definitions, e.g., disinterested. My next project will be to read the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in concert with Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary to see if I can gain any additional insighst. Keep up the great work and THANK YOU!

    Andy

  30. Andy on December 10th, 2012 at 11:32 am
  31. Apologies if you’ve addressed this elsewhere, but I’m curious about the relation between this transcription project and the Dictionary published on cd-rom by Cambridge (which also included a transcription in addition to two facsimile editions). If it’s a question of accessibility (the Cambridge production–proprietary–is now difficult or impossible to acquire), I’d be eager to help with this online one. Seems a shame though to duplicate efforts.

  32. Mark Richardson on April 7th, 2014 at 1:44 am

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