Thursday, August 30, 2007

Urinator - a diver; one who searches under water

If Dr Johnson was writing today surely the internet would have been his best friend. The man of letters would have been able to get his message across the world in a matter of minutes!It's hard to believe that it's 250 years since his dictionary was compiled and published. Along with the Bible or other religious texts, it's probably a book that every bookcase holds. Mind you, with the fast growth of the internet, online dictionaries are now part of everyday life - even your computer programme probably has a spell checker! And it's all thanks to the mighty achievement of this man from Staffordshire. The man Johnson was born in Lichfield on September 18th, 1709 - and you can still visit his house there (see our guide to his house). His father was a book seller, so books and the love of language were in his blood. It's incredible to think that he worked almost single handedly for eight years to complete the book. He would read pages and pages of books, marking passages which explained the meanings of words and would then pass these to a group of poorly paid copyists who wrote them out on slips of paper. Dr Johnson's dictionary wasn't the first to be published, but it's the one that all the poets and authors turned to for help and it's the basis of the books that we use today. Johnson's harvest of 42,773 words, for which he was paid £1,575 (around £100,000 today), doesn't sound like much when you consider that English actually comprised between 250,000 and 300,000 words at that time.
Johnson wasn't a big fan of people from Scotland, for reasons which are unclear, but his definition of oats is: "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people"(!)(from BBC via Bibliothecary)

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