On 15th April 1755, Samuel Johnson published “A Dictionary of the English Language” in London. Johnson was not the first to write a dictionary, but his was the most comprehensive and detailed to date. The finished book contained 42,773 words, each of which featured notes on each word’s usage. Perhaps most astounding is the fact that Johnson wrote the entire dictionary himself, taking 9 years to do so, and earning the modern
equivalent of £210,000 British pounds for his efforts.

Johnson’s book was by no means the first dictionary to be produced – as far as we’re aware that accolade goes to Sir Thomas Elyot, who was the first to publish a book called a Dictionary in 1538 while working for Henry VIII. However, it’s generally accepted that Johnson’s dictionary was the ‘go to’ reference for the English language until the publication of the first Oxford English Dictionary in 1888 – 173 years after Johnson published his.

Despite the impact of Johnson’s dictionary, it would be fair to say that it created a number of problems that the modern English language has inherited. His spellings have become standard, despite them having a number of inconsistencies. However, as Johnson himself wrote in a letter to an Italian lexicographer in 1784, “Dictionaries are like watches: the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.”

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