Provides insight to how things were

by Gabrielle Santiago

Gabrielle Santiago wrote this reflection after enrolling in LIN 4660 Linguistics and Literature at the University of Central Florida during the Spring 2021 semester. She also worked on the project as a volunteer during Fall 2021.

Who is Samuel Johnson?

Samuel Johnson was a writer best known for creating the Dictionary of the English Language on April 15, 1755. “In more than 42,000 carefully constructed entries, Johnson had mapped the contours of the language, combining huge erudition with a steely wit and remarkable clarity of thought” (Henry Hitchings, Defining the World). Johnson used to be an anonymous writer, though he changed that when he began with two works that he published under his own name after ten years of anonymous writing.

The reason Samuel Johnson is so important is because he published the Dictionary which gave him critical acclaim in all circles. “In 1755 it finally appeared and was immediately recognized as a monument; an early biographer called it “Johnson’s world of words.” On the two hundredth anniversary of his death, an editorialist in the Times declared, “The chief glory of the English is their language; and Johnson’s Dictionary, the only one in any language compiled by a writer of genius, had a lot to do with its rise to glory” (Leo Damrosch, The Club). What Johnson published was something never seen before and the work he put into it was extraordinary. Not only were there common words and phrases, but also obscure ones, some were even words or phrases that Johnson made up himself. Meaning without the Dictionary’s existence, the meanings of these words and phrases would be lost to time.

But due to Johnson, we are able to have access to what English society was like back then and all the turns of phrase utilized, with all the definitions and examples of word usage we could want. That is why Samuel Johnson is so important. Without him, many words, and references from back then would not be given the proper context, which would make understanding some of the older works written in the past difficult to analyze.

Why is the Dictionary Worth Putting Online?

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary “captures, and to some degree pre-empts, its age’s passion for organization” (Hitchings). It organized many of the arts with references to history, music, poetry, art, etc. It holds knowledge that many in times past utilized for entertainment (due to the bawdy humor within the pages) and educating the public (due to the myriad of words, references, examples, quotations, etc. inside). But the Dictionary is also very long and chock-full of text, therefore, anyone who is trying to look up information inside of it will struggle.

Many people have used the Dictionary and some of the more unique word usage from it in their own writings or speaking to other people. For example, “[…] Omai was rather less successful in his command of English, but apparently, having gathered from the Dictionarythat ‘to pickle’ meant to preserve, he saluted Lord Sandwich, the Admiral of the Fleet, with the hope that ‘God Almighty might pickle his Lordship to all eternity’” (Hitchings).

 “The Dictionary defines a great many Latinate words that Johnson found in old books, but that few of his contemporaries had ever encountered. […] At times, Johnson’s clearly used such words for fun. Boswell relates that one dinner party Johnson said that no one was ever “made a rogue” by the fictional highwayman in The Beggar’s Opera” (Damrosch). This tells us that there are also a lot of words or phrases that Johnson made up, so the Dictionary gives us a good starting point to learning this slang or “Johnson-ese” that we would not understand without it.

Therefore, putting it online is essential as it gives the casual academic a way to easily navigate through it without having to buy and search through the facsimile edition. It all goes down to time management and ease of usage. Not only that, but also, it informs anyone willing to read it about English society within the period of time that Johnson wrote the Dictionary in. So, it helps give off context to some of the wording people used back then and also provided insight to how things were.

What I Contributed:

In the early days of the project, I was tasked with XML coding to tag any word that was referring to a person’s name or a place name. Other than that, I would have to check if the online rendition matched up word-for-word compared to the facsimile transcripts. I would also point out any inconsistencies in the formatting, any mis-tagged words, etc. Once the coding was finished, I moved onto the researching the person names. This included differentiating which person names were fictional or referencing real people. If it were a real person, I would put their full name, date of birth, date of death, Library of Congress link, and Wikipedia link on an Excel spreadsheet. If the name were fictional, I would highlight it to show that it was not referring to a real person.

In the person name research, I was in charge with all names beginning with the letter “N” and when I was finished with that, I also did some starting with the letter “P.” I would also draw attention to any names that were tagged incorrectly (ex: tagged as a person name but was actually a place name). All in all, my job was to bring attention to anything mis-labeled or incorrectly inputted, while also paying close attention to my own coding and person name research at the same time.

How My Work Benefited Me:

I believe that learning how to code was a huge benefit and something I can add to my resume that would impress any graduate school or job. Being a part of such a large project with everyone working tirelessly to complete it on time also made me better when it comes to teamwork and voicing out concerns. My attention to detail has heightened as I would have to pay close attention to the online version of the Dictionary and the facsimile edition. Time management is a large plus as well since I would have to do a hundred words a week when I was still coding, so I learned to do a little bit every day to make the deadline. Same with the person name research as the goal was fifteen or so names a week.

Not only all that, but the person name research I underwent was a fun way to learn about prominent people from the past and also see the names of characters in famous works back in the day. I learned about real people I never heard of before and people I have heard about, but never decided to look deeper into (ex: Nebuchadnezzar). It’s been a great opportunity. Therefore, I would like to say to Professor Young, thank you so much for this project. It was difficult and tedious at times, but it was something I am proud to be a part of.