I learned a lot about cucumbers (and much more)

by Mckhyla Meas

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

Before joining on this project, I did not have a clear understanding of who Samuel Johnson was. I had heard of his name a few times throughout my life, but nothing more than just his name. I never remembered it, either, because his name is not uncommon and does not stick out to me as a person of interest. After joining the project, I was able to learn who exactly he was and why his contributions are so significant. Samuel Johnson was an author and poet who did not make just a ripple in contributions, but a whole tsunami. He was born in poor health, half blind and deaf, and he grew up clinically depressed. When he was older, he was granted the opportunity to study at Oxford, although familial issues led to him leaving after thirteen months without a degree. He decided to work as a writer in London, working as a playwright and for magazines. He finally got the chance to do more with his talents when he was approached about compiling an English dictionary. At the time, there were only small English dictionaries, but none that were recognized by the state. Johnson boasted about how quickly he could finish his dictionary, claiming that he could produce a dictionary better and larger in three years compared to what the French and Italian did. For perspective, forty French scholars worked on their dictionary for forty years. Although Johnson did not complete his dictionary in three years like he had predicted, he did accomplish it in nine years, which is still an impressive feat! The dictionary may have been completed earlier had he been given a proper allowance/salary to support himself and pay his assistance. To make up for the lack of funds, Johnson continued his work as a writer. His wife’s death also put a damper on his progress. After nine long years, Johnson finished his work. Unfortunately, the dictionary was too expensive at first, so sales were poor. However, once all the quotes were taken out, sales did a lot better.

Johnson’s dictionary is so important and worthy of being put online because it includes roughly 42,000 entries, a massive difference in comparison to other dictionaries (although it is about 6,000 entries short of Nathan Bailey’s, Johnson’s predecessor.) His entries were far more detailed and accurate. He was also a splitter, and separated the different meanings of words into senses, rather than lumping them altogether. Johnson was focused on defining words that were actually used in the English language, instead of obscure words that were rarely spoken. He was interested in using standard written language, and less interested in defining slang. His dictionary is impressive for being written during his time. He is very detailed in his definitions, including etymology and sometimes the pronunciation of words. Another notable feat is his inclusion of multiple meanings for one word, or sense. Some words had ten senses! He was very specific in his definitions, making his dictionary different from the previous English dictionaries that were produced.

When I was given the opportunity to intern for the project, I was very excited. I was looking for internships to add to my resume, and as a full-time student and first time mother who also went back to work for the first time in over a year, I was very anxious about finding an internship that did not require me to extend myself more than I could offer. Finding the Johnson Dictionary project was like finding gold! It allowed me to work remotely while giving me ample time and energy to stay on top of my courses, work, and be a full attentive and engaged mother to my infant. I was one of many proofreaders, which still seems like such an important job that I still get nervous about whether or not I am missing something. For many words, I felt as though I was missing something, so I would go back and proofread them multiple times just to make sure. I felt almost guilty for feeling as though I was doing something wrong when too many words in a row had no errors, despite knowing that the entries were supposed to be error free! I proofread a few hundred words within the “C” section of the dictionary. Some words were excruciatingly long with multiple senses and handfuls of quotes, while others were a few words long  (you can guess which ones my favorites were.) In addition to the few hundred words that I proofread, I also caught about four words missing from the spreadsheet! I hope the project benefited from my hours of proofreading, as I have definitely benefited from the opportunity.

For many, the question of how I could possibly benefit from interning as a proofreader for an old English dictionary is in the air. I also questioned what I could benefit from the project besides earning course credit and being able to add the project to my resume. I was not expecting to come out of the project with a new perspective on my work ethics. Along with the abundance of new words I learned, or words with different meanings than I had anticipated, I learned my own limits as a student and the workload I can comfortably take on. As previously stated, I am a first time mother. I welcomed my daughter earthside in May earlier this year, after the end of the Spring semester. I debated for a long time about enrolling in classes for the Fall 2021 semester, and I also weighed my options about internships. I graduate in two semesters, so I knew I needed some work on my resume, but I was concerned about my capabilities. On top of 16 credits, I also participated in a work study within the modern languages and literature department. With school, work, and a baby to tend to, I was nervous about finding an internship that was flexible with my schedule, as well as something I could handle. Fortunately,  the Johnson Dictionary Project has been exactly that. I learned that I could handle and do more than I gave myself credit for, and it is a lesson that I will be sure to pass down to my daughter. Doubting myself was one of the worst things I could have done to myself this semester; it caused so much unnecessary anxiety and stress. Working on the project gave me a sense of accomplishment when I felt as though I was failing as a student. It taught me to leave room for myself, to give myself more credit, and to stop doubting myself! While I originally believed the role of a proofreader is small in comparison to other roles, I now acknowledge just how vital it is to go through and catch any errors or mistakes. I learned my limits in regards to how heavy of a workload I can carry, allowing me to work more effectively and accurately with the least possible stress. Life lessons aside, I also learned cool words, such as insults and slang from the time period. The definitions provided me with an insight of what the English language used to be, and it was so interesting to see how the words developed into the words we use today. I also learned a lot about cucumbers since Johnson provided an exceptionally long definition for it.

The Johnson’s Dictionary Project provided me with a great opportunity that I will cherish! I am excited to continue working on the project over Winter break as well as the upcoming Spring 2022 semester.