Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary
In 1746, Samuel Johnson undertook the Herculean task of writing the first comprehensive English dictionary. Imagining he could complete the job in three years, Johnson in fact took more than eight, and the dictionary itself turned out to be as much a work of literature as it was an invaluable reference. In alphabetized chapters, ...more
Of particular interest to me. I had forgotten about the significance and culture of the coffee house during Johnson's time. The reminder of this bit of history makes the running gag in Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon" about coffee houses being everywhere that the English were that much funnier. In his great buddy novel Pynchon shows Mason and Dixo ...more
The copy I bought was remaindered at $3.88. I can't say I was surprised.
A dull, pedestrian, aimless book. Though I dare say the scholarship was accurate.
Hitchings has recently come out with another book: "The Secret Life of Words". According to The New ...more
If a similar vagueness clouds Johnson’s definition of ‘adder’ (‘a serpent, a viper, a poisonous reptile; perhaps of any species’), his definition of ‘tarantula’ is positively opaque. Johnson tell us that it is ‘an insect whose bite is only cured by music’. This curious belief is recorded by Samuel Pepys among others, and had recently been confirmed by a Neapolitan violinist, who had described in the Gentleman’s Magazine his success in curing a man who had been bitten under the lip of his ear. J
I fall into the latter category, and the chief effect of this book was to make me want to pick up the dictio ...more
Since I have a fascination with dictionaries and lexicography I found it to be an interesting book but not altogether captiva ...more
19-coz...instead of furnishing convivial merriment to the voluptuous & disssolute, his abilities might have enabled him to excel among the virtuous & wise
23-at Oxford...I bid farewell to Sloth, being resolved henceforth not to listen to her siren strains
25....the pinched & narrow world of Breadmarket Street
48...he was impertinent and I beat him
64...genial banter with his helpers....who did much to allay his melancholy
94...Black Adder episode..Ink & ...more
What Simon Winchester did for the Oxford English Dictionary in The Meaning of Everything (**** Nov/Dec 2003), Hitchings does for its predecessor, Samuel Johnson's dictionary. Hitchings's delightful book is infused with details about the history of lexicography and the English language, and he places the dictionary in the context of Johnson's difficult life and the fame that followed. Cleverly written (though Hitchings misses a few definitions here and there), Defining the World is organized much...more
Johnson's quirky explanations are defined as: oats - a grain in England that feeds horses, but in Scotland is expected to support the people'. Even if English horses/Scots stopped eating them, oats would still be oats.
Some cool facts, and stories, though.
The concept of the book is that each chapter is a word in the dictionary, and it progresses through the alphabetical order. He does it pretty well, though once or twice I thought the chapter was an essay that could have survived anywhere in the book.
Essentially a chronolo ...more
About halfway through reading this book, I found and downloaded an e-book version of t ...more
Here are some of my new favorite words: adscititious ...more