I’ll never forget the word “butyraceous”

by Janelle Guichard

Janelle Guichard, a History major at the University of Central Florida, wrote this reflection after working as a volunteer during the Fall 2021 semester.

When I began my first semester of majoring in History at University of Central Florida, I was hoping there would be an opportunity to become involved in an internship or project through the history department. Sure enough, there was one. I volunteered to help with the Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary project. This came as an email sent to English and history students, and I jumped at the chance to be involved. I knew nothing of who Samuel Johnson was and even less information on his dictionary. Putting my fears aside I decided to respond to the email and it was the best decision I made. With little to no experience it took only a brief time to be comfortable with what all I had to be involved in.

Samuel Johnson was an eighteenth century writer. Born in England in the year 1709, Samuel attended Oxford but did not graduate. He became a writer and was approached to create a dictionary of a grander scale than those that currently existed in Europe. In 1775 he completed it and it is extraordinary.

Having an opportunity to see things from the past as others have, not only is a privilege but a true gift that we are able to enjoy in our time. Discovering words not used in the English language anymore and long forgotten quotes Samuel’s dictionary is worth putting online so anyone can have the opportunity to learn, explore and expand their vocabulary in a different yet eccentric way. This is also an opportunity for researchers and students to be able to easily explore what is readily available at any time.

I was one of the lucky ones who was able to help with the project by proofreading words and their definitions as well as quotes. Using a spreadsheet, I was given a list of words that I was instructed to look up using the browse tab on the website for the dictionary. Here I was able to see scans of the pages from the original dictionary. I was then instructed to log on to the administrator’s page and look up the same words. I now had to make sure all information was accurate and report any problems such as, Misspellings. Headwords, and parts of speech must also be correct. I was then to Initial on the spreadsheet when I have completed the proofreading for the word and explain any, if there were mistakes that needed to be corrected. To my surprise I did find a few mistakes, and I was hesitant to explain what it was I found fearing I may have made my own mistake. In the end I did find legitimate items that needed to be corrected and was thanked and acknowledged for it. I must say that the list of words was longer than I expected and still at the end of the term I have not been able to complete all of them.

At the end of each week each student involved in the project had to do a brief recap. In a discussion format on canvas, we would pick a word that either interested us or a word we found interesting whether it be a word in our list or a word we randomly searched. For my week nine discussion I chose the word, butyraceous (having the qualities of butter) and I will never forget that word. We then had to explain why we picked that word and briefly explain how our work went for that week. We were also asked to respond to another student’s discussion if we like. It was nice to see the other students involved and what task they were given. It was a relief to know that other students had some of the same difficulties I had like trying to find the time to work on the project or being overwhelmed in the beginning. It was also fun because we shared what snacks we ate while proofreading and we also had a shared Spotify playlist for background music. Just from the discussions I could tell we were all different from our ethnicities to our genders and ages, and here we were all working together for Samuel Johnson, so the world will be able to view his work at any time. I was involved in something important and that means everything to me.

In the beginning of this project, I did feel a bit overwhelmed but as time went by and I became more familiar with the ins and outs of using the spread sheet and going back and forth with three open windows on my computer I gained confidence. The only thing I had to worry about now was finding the time to do it. Between classes and work I found it easier to work on the weekends. It was very tedious work and I loved every minute of it. The more classes I enroll in for my history major I am learning how to be more detailed, patient, and critical in my thinking. This project allowed me to put what I have learned to the test. I am continuing my college education late in life, and at the age of forty-two I doubted myself and any future I had with this major. I have learned with volunteering in this project I can succeed and there are many opportunities for me. I was able to work a full-time job come home and be with my children and still be able to proofread simply through my computer. This opportunity will be the first experience I will be able to put on my resume and it makes me proud. I have gained skills I can use for internships and other projects. One interesting fact that came with volunteering for this project was the curiosity of my coworkers and family members when I told them I was involved. Not only did they have no idea who Samuel Johnson was or about his dictionary, they were in awe when they tried to understand what I was doing and that is when they realized that I am profoundly serious about my major. I heard many comments, the most common one being, “oh, boring work.” Yes, boring to them, but extremely fascinating to me. I have finally reached a level of intellectual separation from my peers, and it feels wonderful. I plan to continue with this project and hope I will be receiving many more emails whenever there is a new project looking for students to volunteer. The more the better I say. My brain is ready to soak up anything they want to throw at me. As a volunteer and not an intern or student receiving credit for this class, this essay was optional. I chose to write it because I appreciate the opportunity I was given and want to show my gratitude as well as my enjoyment being involved. As a poet I love words. They are frozen sweet raspberries I can chew on and sentences and quotes are full hearty meals I can dine on. I take nothing for granted that I have done or learned proofreading during this fall term.