Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster

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Two of the names in lexicography are Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) and Noah Webster (1758-1843). Johnson, the English writer, poet, biographer, and critic, produced his great Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, a work of two volumes. Although it was not the first English dictionary, it was certainly the best and the most up to that time. Johnson’s work was enormously on both sides of the Atlantic and, as revised by others, remained in print and in use for more than a century.
Noah Webster, not one to display deference to any other lexicographer, was unwilling to accord Johnson such acknowledgement, and while relying on Johnson’s work in many substantive ways, he criticized Johnson for including rare and words and ‘vulgar’ terms. The latter were not words that most of us would today think of as , but rather breached the level decorum that Webster thought was appropriate. Webster was a prig all his life, and one of the few consistencies of his approach to lexicography was his refusal to admit words that he regarded as vulgar. Webster’s two-volume 1828 dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language, published when he was 70 years old, was by far the and most dictionary produced in America up to that time. It included many terms that were distinctively American or that had developed meanings different from their original English ones. It offered coverage than dictionaries and better definitions. After Webster death, his dictionary was enlarged by others and in 1864 became the first dictionary styled ‘unabridged’ (Landau, 2002:xxv).