Johnson’s Dictionary Online: A Logophile’s Dream

by Bianca Zoe Jimenez (they/them/theirs)

Johnson’s Dictionary: A Brief Introduction

Samuel Johnson crafted the most prolific comprehensive English dictionaries of his time. Unbeknownst to him, Johnson wrote a historic book that exists as a snapshot into the political, social, and cultural landscape of the 18th century. Prior to writing his magnum opus, Johnson was also an essayist, poet, and playwright. His best essay was featured in his magazine The Adventurer in October 1753- just two years before publishing the first edition of the dictionary. His essay discussed the importance of “grand projects” and implores his readers to be adventurous, take risks, and have fun. I am sure that this essay reflected his passion for adventure as he was writing his very first dictionary- his grandest project.

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary is worth putting online because it allows a wide variety of significant uses from a historical and political standpoint. His dictionary has been cited many times by the United States Supreme Court. Additionally, it offers itself as a historical document. Unlike any other dictionary past or present, Samuel Johnson’s work utilized quotations from hundreds of pieces of English literature to support the definitions provided in the book. These quotations added context from a variety of disciplines ranging from British fiction such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost to scientific articles for each entry on plants and biology (Johnson). The quotations allow readers to delve into the important works of Johnson’s time, as well as the most up-to-date information of the 18th century. In order to create research accurate to historical documents of the time- such as the United States Constitution- it is imperative to put Johnson’s dictionary online to make historical research or any rohr use that the dictionary offers much more accessible for everyone, including researchers, lawmakers, students, or the average person interested in Johnson’s work.

My Contribution

I contributed to the Samuel Johnson Dictionary project by proofreading entries and editing the XML code for the 1773 edition of the Johnson Dictionary. Over the course of four months, I was tasked to proofread and edit nine complete folio pages and hundreds of entries for the letters A, C, D, F, O, P, S, and UV. In total, I proofread and edited approximately 2,151 entries for the Samuel Johnson Dictionary Project (yes, I did do the math). I poured over hundreds of entries, making sure that each of them matched the facsimile images, as well as corrected countless typos and formatting mistakes. Besides fixing images and typos, I used XML to add persName, placeName, lang ana and foreign lang to previously untagged names of people, characters, places, languages, and foreign words. Adding these tags make it much easier to filter searches by person and place in the pull-down menu. For example, you can search entries with quotations by Shakespeare when you search>Shakes in the pull-down menu marked author. My favorite entry that I edited and tagged happened to also be my very last one: persName to Satan for the entry sword, n.s. – 1. A weapon used either in cutting or thrusting; the usual weapon of fights hand to hand (Johnson). I believe my contributions to the Johnson Dictionary Project helped “clean up” the work of those before me to ensure that the final project, which had just gone live a few days ago, was fully functional and organized. Adding tags to words makes it much easier for users to search by person, place, and author in order to fit the needs of whatever research or other purpose they need. For example, if someone were to research the instances that the city of Troy was mentioned in 18th century British literature, they have the full capability to easily search them. Hopefully my work proves useful in aiding research or reviewing documents in court.

Johnson’s Impact on My Life

My work with the dictionary project was personally fulfilling. As a child, I had a particular interest in dictionaries and encyclopedias. Ever since I learned how to read, I read anything and everything. I had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and one day, at six years old, I began reading the Oxford English Dictionary. This moment sparked my nearly two decade obsession with linguistics and English grammar. Exactly one year ago, I visited the Library of Congress to see Thomas Jefferson’s personal book collection, which included the original Johnson Dictionary. My personal experience with dictionaries and seeing Jefferson’s collection in person ultimately led me to work on Johnson’s Dictionary Online. I was very excited to join this project and have my very own contribution on such an important dictionary after years of doing my own research at home to learn everything about dictionaries. This opportunity has reignited my passion for lexicography, linguistics, and word knowledge. Reading hundreds of entries has allowed me to greatly expand my personal vocabulary as well as given me a glimpse into English Linguistic history and the sociology of Johnson’s time. Editing countless entries proved to be difficult at times- not knowing when to tag a word as a place and finding nothing on something I thought was a name. Despite the occasional difficulty, it was very educational. Looking for words to tag as names or places sent me on linguistic wild goose chases- frantically trying to confirm if a word was a name, a place, or not worth tagging at all. Because of my work, I was able to discover tidbits of history by witnessing the evolution of hundreds of words sine the 18th century, For example, I ran into the entry for apocalypse, n.s. Revelation; discovery: a word used only of the sacred writings (Johnson). I found this entry so interesting because our modern interpretation of the apocalypse is the end of the world as we know it, yet the 18th century speakers of English viewed the word more as a revelation. I began researching what apocalypse used to mean, and it brought me to find that there was a whole chunk of the Bible called Apocrypha but was ultimately taken out for being “sacrilegious.” Because of this project, I was able to delve into the very field I have been dreaming about for decades. This has become a personal and professional achievement of mine that I will never forget.