Samuel Johnson

by Manelaine

  1. Who is Samuel Johnson and why is he important?

So, Samuel Johnson was a writer in the 1700s. He wrote many works, but the most influential work of his-the reason we have this course today-is his Dictionary of the English Language. This dictionary is super important, because it set a precedent for how every other dictionary should be done. Without Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, our formatting for dictionaries today would likely be a lot different.

It should also be noted, the Dictionary was the main dictionary until the Oxford English Dictionary which came out almost two hundred years later. For almost two hundred years, the Dictionary was the authority on the English language, and since Samuel Johnson compiled it, he was the authority of the English language. If that isn’t reason enough for him to be important, I don’t know what is.

2. Why is Johnson’s Dictionary worth putting online?

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language is worth putting online because we’re literally preserving a piece of history in a way that will last forever, and we’re making it acceptable to everyone. There’s a whole lot of reasons to put this dictionary online.

Think of ANY work of literature that came between the time the Dictionary was published (1755) and publication of the Oxford English Dictionary (1884), or even other things: think of plays, legal documents, or even just historical letters. The English language has changed a surprising amount, so to understand something as it was written way back then, you might need something to help you. This is especially common with law students, because if you want to understand exactly what that law means, you’ll need to understand the older language that it uses.

3. What did you contribute and how did your contributions benefit the project?

So, what I did was mostly proofreading and XML editing. Every week we went over our selection of words and would read through them, making sure they were correct and didn’t have any mistakes. If they did have mistakes, we would pull up eXide and edit the code to make the site reflect that.

There are two versions of the Dictionary for this project. There’s a 1755 and a 1773 version. It should be noted that I only worked on the 1773 version. From my understanding, the way that the site works is that a program scanned the pages and turned them into code, and because it’s a program, it’s not going to be perfect all the time. That’s where myself, my peers, and the other volunteers came in. We worked on the site to fix the things that the program missed or misread.

Another important thing that we did was adding tags! The online version of the Dictionary is pretty cool, because it has person, place, and language tags. The plan is that one day, we’ll be able to click those tags and be brought to a search that has all of the other items tagged that way, or a page explaining who, what, or where that tagged item is. I think that’s really cool and helpful. Johnson uses a lot of examples from others to demonstrate word usage, and when I was going through, I’d see a lot of recurring names. I think the idea of being able to just click that name and pull up a page on who it is sounds really good.

4. How did your work benefit you?

I got to learn so many fun words while working on this project. There were a ton of times that I’d find a word I recognized and look at the definition, only to realize that it was totally different from the word I knew it to be in modern English. I’m someone who is absolutely fascinated by the way that languages are formed and change, so to see these changes over time is so interesting to me. That’s just words I knew, though. My favorite new word, which I learned through this project, would have to be “flammivomous.” It is an adjective that means “vomiting out flames.” I’m an avid Dungeons and Dragons player, so you can imagine how useful and confusing this word is when I throw it out at the table.

Aside from learning new words to confuse my D&D group with, I’ve gotten to learn how to edit. I wouldn’t consider myself to be very good at computer work, but this helped me gain a bit more confidence in editing XML code. Honestly, part of me has been considering taking up a coding course because of this class. There’s something so satisfying in seeing a change on page in real time, and that’s just editing. I would love to actually be able to program my own stuff one day, but a huge factor in my new interest is because I worked on this project and actually felt comfortable with coding.

Honestly, that’s just another thing I’d like to mention: comfort. When I started, I was so scared to mess up. I was nervous about coding, I was nervous that I wouldn’t catch errors, or that I would mess up a webpage, but working on this project has proven to be an invaluable experience. It took me out of my comfort zone, and a lot of the hobbies and stuff I’ve always thought that I was “good at,” I’ve been doing since I was really little. I’d forgotten what it feels like to consciously work on and learn new skills, which is what I’ve been doing by using eXide. It was a good refresher that everyone starts out slow and inexperienced, but the more we work and the more we push ourselves, the better it gets.

Yellowdig was also pretty helpful! Everyone there is so nice, and I loved seeing people share their words. It was also great to be able to put down a question that I was struggling with, and know there was a community that would be able to help me out. In short, I think this project was really good for me.