Today, we’d like to take a moment to celebrate the man behind A Dictionary of the English Language, the first definitive English dictionary, the famous (and infamous) Dr. Samuel Johnson.

A Dictionary of the English Language, also called Johnson’s Dictionary, is the work of one larger-than-life figure in English literary history. He created a widely imitated style of biography and literary criticism in addition to setting the meticulous tone of reference books. His cause was to make English, especially the great classics, accessible for all readers. His dictionary was the first book to address English as it was written and spoken. It was the first to include context-based information about English. And it was the first to attempt to enforce a standard of spelling and grammar upon unruly English, which had no equivalent of an academy to defend its use as proper or improper.

To understand Dr. Johnson’s undertaking, we first have to tell you about the state of English lexicography in the middle of the 18th century: It did not exist. There were a handful of glossaries of difficult words, but overall, there was no reference for the English reader to consult if a word was unfamiliar. In addition, books were becoming widely available and literacy in England was growing. Several book publishers got together and commissioned Dr. Johnson to compile a dictionary similar to the one created by the French Academy. In France, that effort took 40 scholars 40 years to complete. Johnson, in a barb aimed at the supposed inferiority of the French, said he could do it in three: “This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.” It took Johnson 9 years to complete.

The dictionary was huge: Its bulk was made up of the finest paper available, printed on pages cut to 18 inches in height. At the time, only special editions of the Bible had been printed on anything nearly so extravagant. Flipping open to any page, the curious reader could scan double columns of small type. Entries included a definition and a full-length quotation from a literary source. Notes on the word’s usage provided a context. The original included 42,773 entries with 114,000 literary examples. The examples were the only portion of the dictionary that assistants helped in compiling.

Johnson wrote all the definitions himself with humor and style:

“Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”
“Monsieur: a term of reproach for a Frenchman.”

Pet Calendar, July 5-11

Oakland Tribune July 4, 2008 | Gary Bogue Pet Calendar SATURDAY ADOPTIONS — 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. — TVAR; Pleasanton Farmers Market, First and West Angela streets, Pleasanton; dogs/cats.

– 10 a.m.-2 p.m. — Safe-Cat Foundation; Pet Care Depot, 2000 Bishop Drive, San Ramon; cats.

– 10 a.m.-2 p.m. — ARF; Pet Food Express, 5404 Ygnacio Valley Road, Concord; cats.

– 11 a.m.-5 p.m. — Nine Lives; 2706 Pinole Valley Road, Pinole Valley Shopping Center; dogs/cats.

– Noon-3 p.m. — H.A.R.P.; PetSmart, 4655 Century Blvd., Pittsburg; dogs/cats.

– Noon-3 p.m. — H.A.L.O.; Pet Food Express, 3448 Deer Valley Road Slatten Ranch Plaza, Antioch; cats/dogs.

– Noon-3 p.m. — FCF; Petco, 2005 Crow Canyon Place, San Ramon; cats.

– Noon-3 p.m. — FCF; Petco, 11976 Dublin Road, Dublin; cats.

– Noon-3 p.m. — Safe-Cat Foundation; Nicia’s Pet Depot, 21001 San Ramon Valley Blvd., San Ramon; cats.

– Noon-4 p.m. — Pets & Pals; Pet Food Express, 5404 Ygnacio Valley Road, Concord; cats. More at www.petspals.org.

– Noon-4 p.m. — SPCA; Petco, 1825 Salvio St., Concord; dogs/ cats.

– Noon-4 p.m. — TVAR; PetSmart, 6960 Amador Plaza Road, Dublin; cats.

– Noon-4 p.m. — TLCC; Pet Food Express, 785 Oak Grove Road, Concord; cats.

– 1-4 p.m. — Bee Rescue; Holistic Hound, Walnut Square, Berkeley (Behind Peet’s); cats/kittens.

– 1-4 p.m. — CC4C; Pet Food Express, 2158 Contra Costa Blvd., Pleasant Hill; cats.

– 1-4 p.m. — CC4C; Petco, 1301 S. California St., Walnut Creek; cats.

– 1-5 p.m. — Safe-Cat Foundation; Pet Food Express, 4460 Tassajara Road, Dublin; cats. go to website pet food express

– 2-5 p.m. — CC4C; Pet Food Express, 3610 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette; cats.

– 2-5 p.m. — TVAR; Pet Food Express, 4460 Tassajara Road, Dublin; cats.

– 3-6 p.m. — FCF; Petco, 420 El Cerrito Plaza, El Cerrito; cats.

SUNDAY ADOPTIONS — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. — ARF; Petco, 2005 Crow Canyon Place, San Ramon; cats.

– Noon-3 p.m. — H.A.R.P.; Pet Food Express, 5829 Lone Tree Way, Slatten Ranch, Antioch; dogs/cats.

– Noon-3 p.m. — H.A.L.O.; PetSmart, 4655 Century Blvd., Pittsburg; cats/dogs.

– Noon-4 p.m. — SPCA; Petco, 1825 Salvio St., Concord; dogs/ cats.

– Noon-4 p.m. — TVAR; PetSmart, 6960 Amador Plaza Road, Dublin; cats.

– Noon-5 p.m. — Second Chance Cat Rescue; Petco, 2310 South Shore Center, Alameda; cats.

– 12:30-4:30 p.m. — FFF; Pet Food Express, 785 Oak Grove Road, Concord; cats. website pet food express

– 1-4 p.m. — CC4C; Pet Food Express, 2158 Contra Costa Blvd., Pleasant Hill; cats.

– 1-4 p.m. — CC4C; Petco, 1301 S. California St., Walnut Creek; cats.

– 1-4 p.m. — FCF; Pet Food Express, 2220 Mountain Blvd. # 122, Montclair; cats.

– 2-5 p.m. — Safe-Cat Foundation; Pet Food Express, 4460 Tassajara Road, Dublin; cats.

– 2-5 p.m. — CC4C; Pet Food Express, 3610 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette; cats.

– 2-5 p.m. — TVAR; Pet Food Express, 4460 Tassajara Road, Dublin; cats.

MISCELLANEOUS — ARF Adoptions — 3-7 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; noon-4:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, 2890 Mitchell Drive, Walnut Creek; cats/dogs.

– Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society — Noon-6 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Mondays; 2700 Ninth St., Berkeley; 510-845-7735. Pet Loss Support Group every third Tuesday from 7-8:30 p.m. Call Roy at above number for more details. Drop- ins OK.

– Martinez Animal Services — Cat adoptions daily, PetSmart, 4566 Century Way, Pittsburg. Cats, rabbits daily at PetSmart, 1700 Willow Pass Road, Concord. Cats daily at PetSmart, 3700 Klose Way, Building 4, Richmond. Cats/kittens daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Rodies, 8863 Marsh Creek Road, Clayton.

– Valley Humane Society — Call 925-426-8656 for details; www.valleyhumanesociety.org.

SPAY/NEUTER HELP — Low-cost spay/neuter clinic — ARF’s shelter, 2890 Mitchell Drive, Walnut Creek. Appointment: Call 925-296-3105, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays to schedule. Prices: Visit www.arf.net/resources/ clinic.html.

– Low-cost — Spay/neuter clinic at Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society Thursdays for qualified residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Cats: $20 spay/neuter; dogs: $40 spay/neuter. Appointments only by calling 510-845-3633. Feral Fix Day is third Thursday of each month. Traps are available to rent.

– Spay/neuter assistance — Low-cost vet referrals and financial assistance for Contra Costa County residents. Contra Costa Humane Society, 925-279-2247.

– Free spay/neuter — For feral cats in East Contra Costa County by Homeless Animals’ Lifeline Organization (H.A.L.O.). They also have limited funds for free domestic cat spay/neuters for low- income families. Call voice mail at 925-473-4642, or visit www.eccchalo.org.

– Low-cost spay/neuter clinic — Financial assistance for low- income Alameda and Contra Costa counties residents. Tri-Valley SPCA Spay/Neuter Center, 4651 Gleason Drive, Dublin. Free spay/neuter for pit bulls. Appointments: 925-479-9674.

– No-cost — Feral cat trap rental and no-cost spay/neuter surgeries — For eligible feral cats, from East Bay SPCA to help reduce homeless cats in East Bay. For more information, Alameda and Contra Costa residents call 510-563-4635, or visit www.eastbayspca.org/resources. and click “The Feral Fix.” Send items at least a week in advance of publication to Gary’s Pet Calendar, c/o Times, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596- 8099; garybug@infionline.net.

Gary Bogue


  1. Dexter -  September 18, 2013 - 11:59 pm

    “In France, that effort took 40 scholars 40 years to complete. Johnson, in a barb aimed at the supposed inferiority of the French, said he could do it in three.”

    The belief of the said inferiority is most certainly quite mutual. But according to the source, the French had certainly beaten the English by creating a dictionary first.

  2. Alan Lindsay -  April 4, 2013 - 3:56 pm

    I’m astonished since my comment of exactly a year ago to realize that there are people who haven’t heard of Johnson. None of them I’m sure are in England. Anyone who has ever taken a British Literature class in high school or college has heard of him (or the teacher was not doing his/her job). Anyone who has studied Shakespeare or the 18th Century has heard of him. If he had never created this dictionary, he’d still be famous.

  3. The Epic1 -  October 16, 2012 - 6:38 pm

    pretty epic i say

  4. callmeanything:) -  October 16, 2012 - 6:28 pm

    I do the same thing as Ole Ed… when I first heard of Dictionary.com, I only went there to look up words I didn’t know. Now it is a site to visit when I am bored. I love all the extra information, for example I now know the difference between irony and sarcasm! When I tell people I get distracted on Dictionary.com, they look at me like I’m nuts, but they are missing out!

    To add to the aposterphe disscusion…Zachary Overline is very smart but he should have said “an” instead of ‘”the”. “The” refers to one thing, but there are as many aposterphes as have ever been written, and you can use another one whenever you want to. It is infinite. Pretty cool.

    Something I noticed… the first comment was written in April 2011. I am writing this in october 2012. The aposterphe disscusion, as I call it, took place a year and a half ago, but I can still think and comment on it.
    Also pretty cool.

    I just thought of something… I hope Ole Ed is still alive. He is awesome.

    Someone needs to come up with another word for awesome.

  5. Miss Smarty pants -  October 16, 2012 - 3:24 pm

    I can’t think a man like a million years ago make a huge dictionary. He found all those WORDS!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Karen Jiang -  October 15, 2012 - 10:56 pm

    Who did write the first dictionary ON THEIR OWN WITH THEIR OWN WORDS?

  7. Karen Jiang -  October 15, 2012 - 10:55 pm


  8. television sets -  February 21, 2012 - 9:16 pm

    Nice post . keep up the favorable work And like many individuals, it is likely you don’t have the expertise to take out said virus, making disease removal about as big a reach as, say, restoring your transmission or tailoring a suit.

  9. Rick Gall -  May 18, 2011 - 1:17 pm

    No doubt about it, Sam Johnson was a giant in the world of letters.
    You can still get a copy of his original dictionary, or at least a version ‘Abridged from The Reverend H. J. Todd’s Corrected and Enlarged Quarto Edition
    By Alexander Chalmers F. S. A.’ from Barnes & Noble. I treasure my copy, a gift from my son.

    But Johnson’s allusion to oats shows him as an ill-bred, and alas, not completely atypically, ignorant Englishman!.
    I was brought up on ‘oats’ or rather oat meal – porridge, oatcakes, , oatmeal puddings, skirlie – and let me tell you, they are all delicious,as well as being healthful and richly nutricious.

    Sure, we fed oats to our horses (real horses – Clydesdales, and to our cattle – Aberdeen Angus – and I am sure they enjoyed them as much as I did

  10. autodact7 -  May 18, 2011 - 9:22 am

    In my humble opinion Morgill’s explanatory entry gets an A+ from this 1st time reader of all the comments on Dr. Johnson. There must be a word apropos to Dr. J’s satisfaction in embarrassing the indifferent/myopic Lord Chesterfield with his searing reply. Perhaps not too dissimilar from one of my old favorites, Shadenfreude.

  11. Ian Colley -  April 30, 2011 - 9:34 am


    “I meant – Well, I completely agree with what Zachary Overline expalined about the usage of ‘it’ (with/ without apostrophe). However, I assume ‘apostrophe’, being used in a sentence construction needs to be prefixed with AN article – ‘an’ and not ‘the’.

    For instance – ‘an apostrophe’ and not ‘the apostrophe’
    Please suggest”.

    Well, I should think that it would depend on whether THE apostrophe in question was a specific, or AN apostrophe amongst others.
    Sorry, didn’t see the previous discussion!
    Ian Colley.

  12. tamara -  April 20, 2011 - 8:56 am

    i like this wedsite……. i dk how to talk to friendbut…this is awesome.. i can get on this durring school!!! lol peace evry one… ( if there is people getting on this)???? :(

  13. Don -  April 14, 2011 - 1:21 pm

    You can still visit Johnson’s home and then stroll down the street to his favorite pub (still there), “The Cheshire Cheese” and lift a glass to the great man…. For a long time, in more innocent years, a first edition of The Dictionary just lay out on a table in Johnson’s home.

  14. FellatioAbuser -  April 12, 2011 - 3:31 pm

    Ole Ed, you are awesome!

  15. morgill -  April 12, 2011 - 2:07 pm

    As Johnson began his dictionary project he sought the patronage of Lord Chesterfield, a major supporter of the arts. He was rebuffed after waiting in the Lord’s outer rooms. After the dictionary was finished, Lord Chesterfield praised the Dictionary and Johnson in an article. Johnson wrote a letter to the Lord in response:


    Seven years, My lord have now past since I waited in your outward Rooms or was repulsed from your Door, during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of Publication without one Act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a Patron before.

    The Shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a Native of the Rocks. Is not a Patron, My Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a Man struggling for Life in the water and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help. The notice which you have been pleased to take of my Labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent and cannot enjoy it, till I am solitary and cannot impart it, till I am known, and do not want it.

    I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligation where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the Public should consider me as owing that to a Patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

  16. shahad -  April 12, 2011 - 1:22 am

    so many people, so much misinformation.

    first of all, american spellings (and pronunciations to a lesser extent) are not ‘mistakes’ or ‘degradings’ of ‘proper’ english.

    in the early 19th century, there was in america a very strong motivation to separate the two countries culturally, and the language was a fine place to do it.

    so the ‘u’ disappeared out of many words [humour, colour, valour], and we got ‘tire’ and ‘fire’ rather than ‘tyre’ and ‘pyre,’ as well as having ‘s’ become a ‘z’ in many words.

    this was the politicisation of the language, and it was most deliberate – and webster was at the center of it. thankfully, someone stopped him short of shortening ‘tongue’ to ‘tung’…

    oh, and by the way, the reason he looks so angry is that he was dyspeptic [i know you can look it up] and probably had tourette’s…

  17. Martin -  April 12, 2011 - 12:10 am

    @Boshango – that’s so right. In common usage, “sick” for modern UK “ill”, and “fall” for “autumn” come into this category of US preserving archaic English.

  18. Troy Smith -  April 11, 2011 - 9:11 pm

    Wow. I’m really not trying to sound snarky, but I thought most educated people knew not only Johnson but his biographer James Boswell. They are two of the most influential people in the history of English literature. (Samuel Pepys I could understand.)

  19. ✿D.C✿ -  April 8, 2011 - 7:05 am

    Haha Oats! :D

  20. hksche2000 -  April 6, 2011 - 11:38 am

    It’s cute, at 81 yrs of age, start your evening with “Dictionary.com” and “The Hot Word” before your e-mails, comics and news. Way to go! You’ll still be reading at 100 and your head will grow more receptive for new info by your challenging it day after day. Have fun!

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