Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Word Play.

I’ve been working hard on the final version of ‘Eulogy’s Secret’ and it’s big decision time (drum roll!) Do I spell-check in my native UK English, or go for US English? The differences aren't huge and mainly come down to ‘parlour’ vs ‘parlor’ and some disappearing L’s (dishevelled vs disheveled) but it did set me thinking about dictionaires and (another tenuous link to excuse a blog post) the compiler of the first dictionary to include common usages of words for a clearer definition, Dr Samuel Johnson.
....because the word 'CAT' must appear in any good dictionary......

Surpisingly Dr Johnson seems a bit of a wit on the side. Despite the gravitas of his work he came up with such chose sayings as:

“A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience,”
“A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out as good for nothing.”
“A woman’s preaching is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is not done well: but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Dc Samuel Johnson.

Dr Johnson’s “Dictionary of the English Language” was published in 1755 and weighed in at nearly 9 kilos (20 lbs). Despite costing the equivalent today of nearly 500 GBP, it was an instant bestseller. With 42,773 entries, it took the good Doctor eight years to complete, although he was originally supposed to complete the book in three years. This original target seems particularly unrealistic, bearing in mind that it took forty French scholars, forty years to do the same task. As Johnson remarked:

“Forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.”

One of Johnson’s fears was that the English language was becoming unduly influenced by the French and would,
“…reduce us to babble a dialect of France.”
And he refused to add words such as, champagne, blonde and bourgeois to his dictionary, in protest.

As already mentioned, Johnson’s dictionary was the first to explain words with common expressions or usage. Let me end with some examples of his humour slipping into some of the definitions.

First editions of Dc Johnson's famous dictionary.

Lexicographer – ‘a writer of dictionaires; a harmless drudge.’

Patron – ‘commonly a wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery’  (Johnson was on poor terms with his patron!)

Oats – ‘a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’

Stockjobber 'a low wretch who gets money by buying and selling shares.'
Debating between pic of stockjobbers and kittens....the kittens won!


  1. Hi Grace, This is my second try on making a comment. Don't know what I did wrong. Love the post, love Dr. Johnson, love cats.
    Jackie King

  2. Hi Grace, great post! I love all things historical and write historical fiction. I've never been a romance reader but now I'm finding I want to add romance to my WIP, so I'm looking forward to reading your book and others to learn from the best how it's done. Thanks.

  3. Thank you Jackie, glad you didnt mind the cheeky addition of cat photos - any excuse!

    Marcia, I hope you'll be pleasantly surprised by historical romance. I started out as a historical fiction reader and only graduated onto romance in the past five years or I'm addicted, so be warned!
    Grace x


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