Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson's Dictionary

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Macmillan, Oct 17, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 292 pages
9 Reviews

By the early eighteenth century, France and Italy had impressive lexicons, but there was no authoritative dictionary of English. Sensing the deficit, and impelled by a mixture of national pride and commercial expedience, the prodigious polymath Samuel Johnson embraced the task, turning over the garret of his London home to the creation of his own giant dictionary.

Johnson imagined that he could complete the job in three years. But the complexity of English meant that his estimate was wildly inadequate. Only after he had expended nearly a decade of his prime on the task did the dictionary finally appear - magisterial yet quirky, dogmatic but generous of spirit, and steeped in the richness of English literature. It would come to be seen as the most important British cultural monument of the eighteenth century, and its influence fanned out across Europe and throughout Britain's colonies - including, crucially, America.

Brilliantly entertaining and enlightening, Defining the World is the story of Johnson's heroic endeavor, 250 years after the first publication of the Dictionary. In alphabetically sequenced chapters, Henry Hitchings describes Johnson's adventure - his ambition and vision, his moments of despair, the mistakes he made along the way, and his ultimate triumph.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Cheryl_in_CC_NV - LibraryThing

I learned a lot, but not much I'll remember. ? And I was actually left with a lot of (vague) questions. ? For example, I would have liked to learn more about his wife Tetty. ? Surely something was ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - rlangston - LibraryThing

A disappointing book, which did not really cover how the dictionary itself was put together (compare for example with the excellent Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester in relation to the OED ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

ADVENTUROUS
3
AMULET
9
APPLE
15
BOOKWORM
18
COMMONER
22
DARKLING
26
TO DECAMP
35
TO DISSIPATE
45
OPINIONIST
150
OPULENCE
162
PASTERN
172
PATRON
180
PHILOLOGY
187
PLEASUREFUL
194
TO PREFACE
203
PUBLICATION
208

ENGLISH
50
ENTRANCE
57
FACTOTUM
64
TO GATHER
69
HIGGLEDYPIGGLEDY
78
LEXICOGRAPHER
87
LIBRARY
102
MELANCHOLY
112
MICROSCOPE
125
NETWORK
131
NICETY
135
TO NOTE
141
RECEPTION
215
TRIUMPHANT
222
UBIQUITY
228
VARIETY
233
WEIGHTINESS
239
X
251
ZOOTOMY
257
NOTES
261
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
279
INDEX
281
Copyright

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About the author (2006)

Henry Hitchings received his Ph.D from University College, London. He has written for numerous newspapers and periodicals, including the Times Literary Supplement, the Observer, the New Statesman and the Financial Times. Defining the World is his first book. He lives in London.

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