Working on the dictionary taught me more than just history

by Caroline McGregor

Caroline McGregor, a History major at the University of Central Florida, wrote this reflection for an independent study course during the Fall 2021 semester.

Over the past semester, I have been working diligently on the Johnson’s dictionary project in order to share this resource with the world. This has been such a wonderful learning experience that has helped me learn and grow as a history major. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary has given us a firsthand look into mid-eighteenth-century language and dialect. Samuel Johnson had a rather difficult life, and he faced many trials and tribulations before he was able to create his dictionary. He felt lost within his life and did not know what he wanted to do. He tried out many things such as playwriting, magazine writing, and book writing. Eventually he was approached by booksellers who enlisted him to create a dictionary. Johnson’s work was extremely important because he created a large-scale dictionary in only nine years. Another important aspect of Johnson’s work was that he did it mostly by himself. This is a revolutionary feat because most of the dictionaries that existed at the time were written by multiple people from all over the world. The fact that he was able to do it in that short amount of time with no modern technology was very interesting. This entire venture is important because it allowed for historians to see a dictionary from that period and how it evolved over time.

            Johnson’s dictionary is important to put online for many reasons. One reason is the fact that it is a very important piece of history that not many people know about. Before taking part in this project, I honestly had no idea what this dictionary even was. In my opinion, putting this dictionary online will help people learn more about the history of Samuel Johnson and the impact his dictionary had. The publishing of the entire dictionary will help people learn and could be used as a resource for teachers and students interesting in pursuing history. Another reason why this dictionary should be put online is to protect it. We do not know what the future holds, and digitizing the dictionary is the best way to ensure that it does not get lost in history. These reasons are two of many as to why it is important for Samuel Johnson’s dictionary to be put on the internet for everyone to read.

            On this project, I was responsible for proofreading the dictionary entries. I had to work very diligently in order to ensure that the dictionary was transferred properly. This task was important because if the dictionary is translated incorrectly, it defeats the purpose of putting it on the internet. As a proofreader, I was responsible for having the pdf of the dictionary and the dictionary entry and comparing between the two entries. I read each word and would go back and forth comparing between the pdf and the dictionary entry. If there were no differences between the two entries, I was able to initial on the excel sheet to signify the word has been proofread. When checking the words, I had to check to ensure the spelling was correct, the grammar was correct, and the punctuation was accurate. If I checked over a word and it did not meet the criteria, I had to make a note of it within the excel sheet. I had to ensure my description of what was wrong was specific in order to make it easier on the person who fixes the error. After that, I would move on to the next word and do it all over again. This process was extremely simple and easy to understand. I was very nervous I was going to ruin the entire dictionary when I first began, and I quickly realized I did not have that kind of power within the dictionary. Because I was using this as an independent study project, I had to do work at least three hours a week editing. I found that I was able to do around one page per hour. The work I did benefitted the project greatly (at least I hope it did, I did my best to edit as much as I could to make an impact). Without proofreading, the dictionary would have a lot of lot of errors. Errors like these are detrimental to the dictionary project. Even though they could just be small things like an extra space after the word, they could also be big issues, such as missing definition pieces that would change the entire output of the definition. The idea behind proofreading is to ensure there is not mistakes, so being on the proofreading team made a big impact on the project as a whole. I would have liked to have learned more about the other projects, but my schedule did not really allow for it. The work I submitted for the dictionary helped get the dictionary closer to being finished and I cannot wait to see the final product!

            Throughout this semester working on the dictionary has taught me a lot about many things not just about history. For one, I helped refine my time management skills. I had to make sure I allotted three hours to edit the dictionary within my already busy schedule. It was easy to implement this into my schedule because I enjoyed doing it so much. I was always really sad when I was unable to find time to edit the dictionary. Another way the dictionary benefitted me was in the sense that I learned so many new words I had never seen before. Obviously, with Johnson’s dictionary being written in the mid-eighteenth century, there are words that are no longer in use. Before writing this reflection, I was trying to figure out what my favorite word was. I think my favorite word was one of the first words I proofread, which was the word chub’bed. I am always one to find anything funny, so the fact that this word means that someone is big headed like a fish is still hilarious to me even months later. Another thing I learned is how to use excel spread sheets. I had basic knowledge of them, but I had no clue how to actually navigate through them in a way that does not screw them up entirely. Any other time I have made a big mess out of them and end up finding another method of organizing my data. I am finally able to search within an excel sheet for information without taking forever to do it. The last thing that I learned by doing this project is that I should continue to try new things. Honestly, I applied to this project on a whim after receiving an email from the history department about it. I looked at it and I thought it was really interesting. Turns out, I really enjoyed doing it and I am so glad that I was a part of the project this semester. I feel like this project has really helped foster my knowledge and will be useful for me as I further my studies in history. I am so glad I went out on a whim and decided to join this project because I have had a blast this semester.