“Dictionary, s. a book explaining the words of any language alphabetically; a lexicon”

The above definition is taken from Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, first published on 15th April 1755. Johnson was born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire. He attended Pembroke College, Oxford, for a just over a year until a lack of funds forced him to leave. After working as a teacher he eventually moved to London where he became an essayist contributing to various journals. A skilled writer, he went on to become one of the leading literary figures of his age.

Whilst not the first dictionary in the English language – that honour belongs to Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall of 1604 – Dr. Johnson’s dictionary is widely regarded as one of the most influential. The first edition contained definitions of 42,773 words and took about nine years to compile. You can read more about Dr. Johnson and his dictionary in Jack Lynch’s guide on the Rutgers University web-site. For those that are interested in the earliest dictionary of the English language, University of Toronto’s website hosts a hypertext copy of Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall.

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