attitude: opvatting; brim full: overvol; celebrated: beroemd; disparity: ongelijkheid; drudge: zwoeger; embarrassment: gêne; excise: accijns, taks.; idiosyncratic: persoonlijk; oats: havervlokken; to pour scorn on: verachten; Samuel Johnson (1709-1784): Engels journalist en auteur.; unashamed: schaamteloos; worthy of note: van enig bela...

attitude: opvatting; brim full: overvol; celebrated: beroemd; disparity: ongelijkheid; drudge: zwoeger; embarrassment: gêne; excise: accijns, taks.; idiosyncratic: persoonlijk; oats: havervlokken; to pour scorn on: verachten; Samuel Johnson (1709-1784): Engels journalist en auteur.; unashamed: schaamteloos; worthy of note: van enig belang; wretch: schurk. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of the first dictionary of the English language. This fact in itself is not especially worthy of note. For one thing, dictionaries are not - let's be honest - especially exciting publications and for another it was not the first dictionary of a modern European language. In fact, it was one of the last. It was out of embarrassment at the lack of an English dictionary that a group of London publishers decided in 1746 that one should be written. The fame of the dictionary that eventually emerged is the result of the reputation of the man they commissioned to write it. It is perhaps indicative of English individualism that, while the dictionaries of other modern languages were compiled by teams of researchers, the first English dictionary was entirely the work of one man. And quick work too. It had taken 45 members of the French Royal Academy 40 years to complete their dictionary. It took Samuel Johnson ten years to complete his. In the light of this disparity, it is not surprising that, by modern standards, his dictionary was not a particularly good one. It included a number of celebrated inaccurate definitions, and is brim full of the idiosyncratic stamp of Johnson himself. But it is this idiosyncrasy and Johnson's unashamed insertion of his own attitudes into his definitions which has earned the dictionary its fame. Johnson defined oats as "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people". On the subject of marriage, he described a second marriage as "the triumph of hope over experience". Never afraid to pour scorn on the powers of the day, he defined pension thus: "In England, it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his own country" and excise as "a hateful tax collected by wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid". All large literary undertakings of the time required a patron to provide financial support. Johnson's dictionary was no exception, but this did not stop him defining patron as "commonly a wretch who supports with indolence and is paid with flattery". But Johnson could also be humble; he defined lexicographer as "a harmless drudge". When Johnson's other writings and the sayings attributed to him are taken into account, Johnson is reckoned to be the second most quoted writer in the English language after Shakespeare.