Contributing to something big

by Luke F.

Luke F., an English major at the University of Central Florida, wrote this reflection for an internship during the Fall 2021 semester.

I think that what is most important about Johnson, especially considering how many difficulties he ran into, is that he managed to create Dictionary despite it all.  What saddened me, to a depth that surprised even me, was that Johnson was terrified of the idea that he would not be granted salvation when he died.  Riddled with anxiety and a proneness to moods, I think that Samuel Johnson is was one of the most human writers I have had the privilege of learning about.  I find great happiness to know that he lies in Poet’s Corner with the poets he included so much in Dictionary.  While Dictionary being digitized is reviving the project, I hope that it revives respect in its author as well.

Why Johnson’s Dictionary should be digitized:

Johnson’s Dictionary is not like regular dictionaries that simply tell you what word means or what tenses it has, Johnson’s Dictionary has a depth to it that is unimaginable and vitally important: Johnson’s Dictionary provides context.  With simple definitions, Dictionary gives quotes from the greatest writers of his age.  With the plainest of nouns, Dictionary points the spotlights to sometimes dozens of uses.  Some of the definitons in Dictionary span pages!  Some examples of instances in which a word is used do too!  Johnson’s research, in an age without Google, without internet, is monumental to an extent I do not think I have the capacity to appreciate.  I type this reflection on a laptop in a room illuminated by a lamp and a house kept a certain temperature.  How can I reasonably understand the work in which Johnson and his assistants had to have gone through?

In this age where Google and other search engines have made this sort of research seem instant and easy, Johnson did something similar in his time.  That is why Johnson’s Dictionary should be published: He essentially created the first search engine, the first research journal.  His project encapsulates the human desire to learn constantly, to search out answers wherever one can.

What I did in my efforts for Johnson’s Dictionary:

In all honesty, I was not entirely sure what I had gotten myself into that first week of the semester.  I am so desperately technologically inept, I will admit that my talents end at just-about plugging in a lamp.  With all the talk of XML and proofreading and windows and admin logins, I let myself get a little overwhelmed.

Understanding that comfort comes with time and ease with comfort, I worked in a three-window system for my first few weeks of proofreading. My job as a proofreader was to pull up the definitions typed into the digital copy of Johnson’s Dictionary and photos of the original Dictionary. Once both versions of a single word were in front of me, I was to scan for differences. While some differences were due to changes in grammar and spelling, as well as character usage, some were simply typos or formatting issues. While I did not find many, a testament to how hard those who worked before me had worked, I did find a few and I pride accompanied my corrections.  I was actively benefiting the project.

In my later weeks of work, I critiqued my system and found ways to better productivity and lessen the burden of extra-steps. I added a fourth window and kept track of how many words I proofed: Twenty-five equaled a short break and every fifty I would shift focus to another assignment to avoid burnout. 

My work benefited the project as a whole because I have a keen eye and a strong work-ethic. By eliminating errors, I was doing two things. One, I was helping further the amount of work down in hope of digitizing Johnson’s Dictionary. Two, I was helping Johnson’s work, too. The goal of context as well as content being in a compendium to benefit all readers.

A few weeks into the semester, an email was sent out with the query of any proofreaders being interested in XML-work. In a rare stroke of stretching-out-horizons, I emailed my interest in testing the position out…To put it kindly, I feel that I was reading another language. Proofreading is where my strength lies most certainly and it had never been more clear to me than when I was reading through the instructions I received. 

How did my work benefit me:

My work benefited me in a way that shocked me: I enjoyed it.  I have taken as many courses as I can, every semester I can, for the past three years.  I have worked a consistent amount of hours through those years as well, and I am soon to be launching into Graduate school applications.  I am tired.

Doing my weekly work on the Dictionary felt relaxing, reassuring.  I learned words that I would not have stumbled upon in any reading and I was able to read snippets of great poems I would not have read otherwise, as well.  No matter how stressful the week before had been, or how grating any aspect of the week had gone, I knew that I was going to hole up with a little Bowie and proofread every weekend.

Johnson’s Dictionary gave me a sense of pseudo-freetime.  It was not quite total freedom but it also did not feel like total school work, either.  It was enjoyable, yet structured. 

And, in a secondary note, I felt that I was contributing to something bigger than just myself.  This project is massive and requires the help of many–and I was a part of that.  In years to come, when this project is completed, I will have been a part of it.