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Title page of : Samuel Johnson. A dictionary of the English language : in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. London : Printed by W. Strahan, 1755

Definitions on this page are drawn from the first edition (1755) of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. This is not a representative sampling, just a small selection of some of the more amusing entries.

The list below might lead you to think that Johnson's Dictionary is some bizarre collection of witticisms and oddities, but nothing could be further from the truth: on the whole, it is a very sensible book, and it stood as the standard for over a hundred years.

Cough: A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity.

Distiller: One who makes and sells pernicious and inflammatory spirits.

Dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.

Excise: A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid.

Far-fetch: A deep stratagem. A ludicrous word.

Jobbernowl: Loggerhead; blockhead.

Kickshaw: A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

Network: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections. (See how he defined 'reticulated,' below.)

Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.

Pastern: The knee of a horse. (This is wrong. When Johnson was once asked how he came to make such a mistake, Boswell tells us he replied, "Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.")

Patron: One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.

Pension: An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.

Politician: 1. One versed in the arts of government; one skilled in politicks. 2. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.

Reticulated: Made of network; formed with interstitial vacuities.

Tory: One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig.

Whig: The name of a faction.

To worm: To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.

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A HISTORY OF ENGLISH DICTIONARIES

  First English Dictionaries

  A Table Alphabeticall

  Dictionaries as Models of Standard

  Samuel Johnson's Project

  Johnson's Dictionary

  Johnsonís Talent for Definitions

  Johnsonís Shortcomings

  Johnsonís Achievements 

MODERN ENGLISH

  The "Ink-horn" Controversy 

  Humour & Pathos in Shakespeare

  Biblical Phrases Test

  British vs. American English

  More

 

 
 
 
 

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