Fall 2016

After two class sessions devoted to dictionary making, looking at Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster, we are going to do an exercise comparing their two dictionary styles at the level of the entry.

We will use the digital editions of the two dictionaries, the 1755 edition of Johnson and the 1828 edition of Webster.

Here is a list of possible dictionary entries you could investigate.  You are not required to use them.  Note sometimes you will not find the same word as an entry across the two dictionaries.

  • quadrangular
  • religion
  • race
  • passion
  • nation
  • to curse
  • labor/labour
  • abominable
  • sacrament
  • liberty
  • eye
  • paradise
  • theater/theatre
  • time
  • discretion
  • adultery
  • bias
  • absolute
  • to abandon

Read the preface to Johnson’s 1755 edition here and the preface to Webster’s 1928 edition here to get a general feeling for their approach to the English Language.


Guiding questions:

-What kind of information does one lexicographer include that the other one leaves out?
-Where does one lexicographer expand or contract his entries? why do you think that is?
-What are the sources used by both in the entries? What can you find out about those texts?
-What about the differences in the entries tells you something about the general character of the dictionary and its maker?
-What general points made by Lerer, Demaria and Reed are substantiated in the entries?  Does anything about the entries contradict them?
-How is their self-representation in the prefaces concordant or discordant with what you find in the entries?


Your blog posting should be based on at least three (3) dictionary entries and should be around 400 words long.  You do not need to cite the definition in its entirety, but you can cite portions of it that are useful for the point you want to make.  Include images and links, where appropriate. You should be sure to compare and contrast the two authors approaches to language and the content of their entries.  One approach might be to use Reed’s three kinds of reuse: transfer, revision and influence (97). You could even include a few sentences about how the two different dictionary interfaces made discover of the content easy or difficult.  Alternatively, full text versions are here (Johnson) and here (Webster) in case you want to search through them.