Words index  Vivian Cook

Dr Johnson’s Definitions

The first proper dictionary in English is often said to be Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755. Some of the definitions of English words that it provides are however notorious for their idiosyncratic wit; some tell us about 18th century life; and show the changes of meaning that words have had since then.

Astrology. The practice of foretelling things by the knowledge of the stars: an art now generally exploded, as without reason.

Cynick. A philosopher of the snarling or currish sort …

Dull. Not exhilarating; not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.

Heathen. Pagan; not Jewish; not Christian

Ingannation. Cheat… A word neither used nor necessary

Itch. A cutaneous disease extremely contagious, which overspreads the body with small pustules filled with a thin serum… it is cured by sulphur.

Job. (A low word now very much in use, of which I cannot tell the etymology)

Lass. A girl: a maid…: used now only of mean girls

Lesser. A barbarous corruption of less

Lexicographer. A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.

Macaroon. A coarse rude low fellow…

Maw-worm. Ordinary gut-worms loosen, and slide off from, the intern tunick of the guts, and frequently creep into the stomach for nutriment being attracted thither by the sweet chyle ...

Mohock. …ruffians who infested, or rather were imagined to infest, the streets of London.

Network. Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections

Oats. A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

Pension. An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.

Pleurisy. Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, though it is hardly distinguishable from an inflammation of any other part of the breast, which are all from the same cause, a stagnated blood; and are to be remedied by evacuation, suppuration or expectoration, or all together.

Politician. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.

Sonnet. A short poem consisting of 14 lines… it is not very suitable to the English language, and has not been used by any man of eminence since Milton.

Tory. (A cant term, derived. I suppose, from an Irish word signifying a savage)…

Wolf. A kind of wild dog that devours sheep

To worm. To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.

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