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Johnson's Dictionary: A Modern Selection
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0486440893, Paperback)Johnson's complete 1755 Dictionary runs to 2,300 pages of definitions and literary examples, a preface, a history of the language, and a grammar. The Cassell modern selection is a mere 463 pages, but an excellent start. This is a highly individual, often idiosyncratic dictionary, and most people now check entries more for verbal pleasure and historical curiosity than usage. Though Johnson began his dictionary in a prescriptive mode--he would tell the reader what was right and what not--he ended by being surprisingly descriptive. There is of course his concern with low words and his loathing of cant, his self-knowing definitions of grubstreet ( "Originally the name of a street in Moorfields in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems...") and lexicographer ("a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge..."). In their introduction, E. L. McAdam and George Milne point out that Johnson "had no prejudice against merely vulgar words, and may have enjoyed them." He does, after all, include among other phrases, fart, complete with two examples. Jonathan Swift's is hilarious, John Suckling's surprisingly wistful: "Love is the fart / Of every heart; / It pains a man when 'tis kept close; / And others doth offend, when 'tis set loose." Among other acute joys are the forward-looking verb to foreslack, "To neglect by idleness," and the first entry under to hoodwink, which awakens one to its physical beginnings, "To blind with something bound over the eyes."
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:50 -0400)
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