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Samuel Johnson and the Journey into Words

Popular readings of Johnson as a dictionary-maker often see him as a writer who both laments and attempts to control the state of the language. Lynda Mugglestone looks at the range of Johnson's writings on, and the complexity of his thinking about, language and lexicography. She shows how these reveal him probing problems not just of meaning and use but what he considered the related issues of control, obedience, and justice, as well as the difficulties of power when exerted over the 'sea of words'. She examines his attitudes to language change, loan words, spelling, history, and authority, describing, too, the evolution of his ideas about the nature, purpose, and methods of lexicography, and shows how these reflect his own and others' thinking about politics, culture, and society. The book offers a careful reassessment of Johnson's prescriptive practice, examining in detail his commitment to evidence, and the uses to which this might be put. Dictionary-making, for Johnson, came to be seen as a long and difficult voyage round the world of the English language. While such images play their own role in lexicographical tradition, Johnson would, as this volume explores, also make them very much his own in a range of distinctive, and illuminating, ways. Johnson's metaphors invite us to consider-and reconsider-the processes by which a dictionary might be made and the kind of destination it might seek, as well as the state of language that might be reached by such endeavours. For Johnson, where the dictionary-maker might go, and what should be accomplished along the way, can often seem to raise pertinent and perhaps troubling questions. Lynda Mugglestone's generous, wide-ranging account casts new light on Johnson's life in language and provides a convincing reassessment of his impact on English culture, the making of dictionaries, and their role in a nation's identity. She ends by considering the power of Johnson's legacy and the degree to which his work continues to guide our attitudes to language and what we variously expect dictionaries to be and do.
Product Details

Table of Contents

Preface ; 1. Journeys into Words ; 2. Writing the Dictionary: Departures and destinations ; 3. 'Excursions into books': Documenting the new world of words ; 4. The Ordered State: Power, authority, and the written word ; 5. Meaning, governance, and the colours of words ; 6. Defending the Citadel, patrolling the borders ; 7. History and the flux of time ; 8. The praise of perfection ; Appendix: 1755 - 1773 ; Notes ; References ; Index

About the Author

Lynda Mugglestone is Professor of the History of English and Fellow and Tutor in English at Pembroke College. She is the editor of Lexicography and the OED (OUP 2002),The Oxford History of English (OUP 2006, 2nd edn 2012) and, with Freya Johnston, of Samuel Johnson: The Arc of the Pendulum (OUP 2012). Her books include Talking Proper: The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol (OUP 1995, 2nd edn 2003), Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary (Yale 2004) and Dictionaries: A Very Short Introduction (OUP 2011).


Lynda Mugglestone has given us a highly readable, fascinating account, where her high competence in the history of the English language and deep insights into Johnson's world of words get perfectly integrated with the best and most up-to-date criticism of the Dictionary. * Giovanni Iamartino, Johnsonian News Letter * Mugglestones meticulous research and stylistic clarity render this volume both informative and entertaining ... Those approaching Johnsons great, complicated book for the first time will find this brief but rich volume the go-to guide for years to come. * A. W. Lee, Choice * "Mugglestone's scholarship displays deep learning with a deceptive lightness, a talent she shares with her subject. * Times Higher Education, Willy Maley * The book is acutely historically aware and deeply serious * Min Wild, Times Literary Supplement * This is a fascinating study of Johnson, which reopens areas of investigation that have long since seemed closed. This is a book for students of Johnson or the eighteenth century at any level. * George E. Haggerty, SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 *

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