Guide to Searching

Performing a Search

Here are the available search functions:

Search criteria options
Search Criteria Options

Menu Option Function
1- Search box Allows user to input text for search
2-Part of entry/category drop-down menu Narrows/expands search to specific components of dictionary entries
3-Dictionary edition drop-down menu Narrows/expands search to 1755 and/or 1773 edition. 
4-Button to add more search criteria Adds additional search bar(s)
5-Button to remove search criteria Removes additional search bar(s)
6- “Help” button Describes options within category/part of entry drop-down menu
Table of Search Criteria Functions
Search tools
Search Tools

Menu Option Function
1-Search button Queries the dictionary database based on selected criteria in the Search Settings bar.
2-Clear button Clears all previous searches.
3-Random button Generates a random dictionary entry.
4-Browse button Navigates to View Printed Pages page.
5-Button to cite a selected word Displays popup window with citation instructions.
6-Permalink button Creates hyperlink to dictionary entry.
7-Compare checkbox Displays two entries side by side.
Table of Search Tools Functions

To perform a search, follow these steps:

1.  Enter the word you want to look for in the search box.

Box to insert search terms
Search Box

2.  Do one of the following:

  • Click the “Search” button to perform a simple search.
Button to perform searches
Search Button


  • Adjust your search criteria (such as the part of entry, the edition, and more) to perform an advanced search. See below for more information.

Choose the Part-of-Entry/Category

The dictionary lets you restrict your search to specific parts of the entry or categories.

1.  Click the part-of-entry/category drop-down menu.

Drop-down menu displaying part-of-entry/category options to choose from
Part-of-Entry/Category Drop-Down Menu Options

2.  Select a part-of-entry/category by doing one of the following:

To Search… Select
The word being defined Headword
Anywhere in the text Full Text
Word definitions or senses. *link to Guide to Dictionary Definition
The word’s history Etymology
Author quotations Quotation
Titles of works named anywhere in the entry Title
Places named anywhere in the entry Places
Historical or fictional people named anywhere in the entry People
Quoted authors Authors
Johnson’s comments about how the word is/was used Usage
Words in a particular foreign language or the language name Foreign
How the headword sounds Headword Sounds Like
Bible quotations Bible Quotations
Table of Entry/Category Menu Options

Choose the Edition

To choose the edition you want to find your word in, click the edition drop-down menu and select one of the options. 

Drop-down menu displaying edition options to choose from
Edition Drop-Down Menu Options

For more information about the editions, see the Guide to Dictionary.

Use Wildcards to Facilitate Searches

Wildcards allow you to:

  • Search for words that begin and/or end with certain letters
  • Search for words that contain certain letters

The Dictionary lets you use two types of wildcards:

Wildcard Function Examples
“.” Replaces any single character
  • b.t finds bat, bet, bit, but… 
  • b..t finds bait, beat, beet, belt …
  • b…t finds beast, befit, besot, beget …
“*” Replaces any number of characters
  • *apple finds words that end with apple
  • apple* finds words that begin with apple.
  • ap*e finds words that begin with ap and end with e. 
  • *apl* finds words that have the letters apl anywhere in the word: (apluster, chaplet, staple …)
Table of Allowed Wildcards And Their Function

Additional Information on Wildcards

  •  If you are searching for a word in the “Foreign” or “Headword Sounds Like” category, the “*” wildcard will not work.
  •  If you are searching for a phrasal headword, or for a word that includes punctuation, use the * wildcard. For example, cuckoo* brings up cuckoo, cuckoo-bud, and cuckoo-spittle, and hippocrates* brings up Hippocrates’s sleeve.

Use the “Regex” Function

The search fields accept regular expressions (regex) that allow you to specify search patterns in more detail. 

Our headword searches are run by a program called MySQL, and the rest of our searches are run by Lucene. Click here to see how regex works in MySQL, or click here to see how it works in Lucene.

Broaden Your Search With the Boolean Feature

Note: The “AND” function is currently not working.

1.  Click the “+” icon next to the edition drop-down menu as many times as you want.

"Plus" icon next to the edition drop-down menu, which allows you to add new search criteria
“+” Icon Next to the Edition Drop-Down Menu

2.  In the new search line(s) that appear(s), select either “AND” or “OR”

"And/Or" function that allows you to combine search criteria or choose among them
“And/Or” Function

3.  Add new search criteria by:

  •  Entering another word in the new search box


  •  Selecting a category from the drop-down menu next to the search bar


  •  Selecting another edition


  • Doing a combination of some or all the options above 

Managing Page View Settings

Here are the available Page View settings:

Settings that allow you to hide or see different page elements
Page View Settings

Menu Option Function
1 – Criteria button Displays or hides search criteria
2 – Search Results button Displays or hides search results
3 – Text button Displays or hides entry transcription
4 – Image button Displays or hides entry image
5 – XML button Displays or hides the XML code for the entry (XML button defaults to hidden)
Table of Page View Settings’ Functions

If you want to focus on only one or some of these elements, you can hide the rest of them. To do this, click on the Page View setting that correspond(s) to the element(s) you want to hide. The hidden elements will look faded compared to the active ones:

Page view settings showing active and hidden page elements
Active and Hidden Page Elements

This is what you would see if you hide the transcribed entry (text) as shown above:

Screen after hiding the transcribed entry
Hidden Transcribed Entry

Using the “Compare” Feature

When you search for a word, you can use the “Compare” feature to compare two different entries in your search results. (To get differently-spelled words into your search results, you can use wildcards or a boolean “Or” search.)

1.  Click an entry in your search results. 

Note: After you click, this result should be highlighted in a mustard yellow.

2.  Check the “Compare” box.

Checked compare box allows you to compare two entries
Checked Compare Box

3. Click any other result. The two selected results should look like this:

First selected result in yellow and second selected result in light blue
First Selected Result (Yellow) and Second Selected Result (Light Blue)

4. Compare both results/entries.

Comparison of 2 entries
Comparing 2 Entries

If you want to compare a new set of results, uncheck the “Compare” checkbox and repeat the process above.

Viewing the Entry Image

When you search for a word in the online dictionary, you can see the original image of the entry next to the transcribed entry. 

Transcribed entry on the left and entry image on the right
Transcribed Entry (Left) and Entry Image (Right)

If you wish, click the “See full page image” button to see the complete page in which the entry is in the original Dictionary. This button is at the upper right corner of the image.

Button to see the full page image
“See Full Page Image” Button

If you want to go back to the entry image only, click the “See word image” button, which is also located at the upper right corner of the image.

Button to see the entry image only
“See Word Image” Button

Citing Searches

1.  Click the “Cited Selected Word” button.

Button to cite a selected word
“Cite Selected Word” Button

2.  Copy the citation that appears in the light blue box.

Selected entry citation
Selected Entry Citation

3.  Paste the citation where it corresponds.

Note: You might need to modify the citation depending on the style guide you are using.

Troubleshooting the Dictionary

Searching in an eighteenth-century text can be challenging for several reasons:

  • Spelling was not completely standardized; the same word (or name) could be spelled more than one way.
  • Johnson used British spellings, which differ from today’s U.S. spelling
  • Johnson often abbreviated names and titles

If your search is not finding a particular word or name, try doing the following depending on what you are trying to search:

If You’re Searching Then
Any word Search for part of the word and use a wildcard rather than searching for the entire thing. For example, favo* in Headwords will find “favour” and its derivations, all spelled the British way with -our.
Names  Search the last name only, using all lower-case letters, and putting an asterisk at the end. For example, search “smith*” to find “Smith” or “Smith’s.”
Books of the Bible Search for the name of the specific book (e.g., Job) rather than for “Bible.”
Entries that begin with determiners/particles Omit the determiner or particle. For example, to find “to pen,” search for “pen.”
Table of Search Workarounds

Moreover, we would like to inform you of the following issues:

  • The “AND” function from the Boolean search feature is not working. We are actively working to fix this problem as soon as possible.
  • An additional information button appears each time one clicks a new result/entry after hitting the “Compare” checkbox. This does not affect usability, but we understand it might look strange.