Bailey’s Etymological Dictionary:

This dictionary was a welcome improvement on Cawdrey’s dictionary in the sense that it listed a much larger number of words and, for the first time, included indigenous words in addition to difficult words borrowed from other languages. It did not include all the English words as a typical dictionary of nowadays would attempt to do but it included a large number of them. In his Encyclopedia of the English Language, Crystal tells us that in its 1736 edition the number of words listed in this dictionary went up to 60,000.

Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary:


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Johnson produced the plan of his dictionary in 1746, collected examples for about eight years and then produced in 1755 a dictionary which turned out to be a very important milestone in the history of lexicography in English. This dictionary included about 40,000 words and the definition of each word was supported by quotations from sources like Shakespeare, Bacon, Addison, Pope, Milton and the Bible. Following the tradition of an encyclopedia, he also provided a topical explanation of some words. In all there are about 116,000 examples given in support of the definitions. It is said that he had collected a much larger number of examples than what is actually listed in the book but because of the shortage of time he was unable to make use of more than half of all his examples. The definitions in the earlier parts of the dictionary are, therefore, illustrated much more abundantly than the ones listed towards the end of the book. In addition to giving the meaning of words, he also mentioned the parts of speech of all the words and indicated the most heavily stressed syllable of each of the words.

In matters of giving examples, he wanted to maintain the same objectivity and impartiality that a scientist should have for his data. For the sake of impartiality, he avoided examples from living authors. But his definitions are not free from his personal prejudices. For example, he defined “oats” as “a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”. He defined the word “patron” as “one who countenances, supports or protects” and then added that a patron was “commonly a wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery”. Defining the word “pension”, he said that it was “an allowance made to anyone without an equivalent” and added that “in England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling, for treason to his country”. Dr. Johnson not only codified the meaning of a large number of words but also stabilized the spelling of words in English.

Although the spelling of some words are now different from the way they were spelt in Johnson’s dictionary, the spelling of a very large number of words in English these days are as he presented them in his dictionary. Boswell, his biographer was, therefore, absolutely right when he described Dr. Johnson as “the man who had conferred stability on the language of our country”. Dr. Johnson’s dictionary has sometimes been criticized for some of its inadequacies. It has been pointed out, for example, that his description of the etymology of some of the words in his dictionary is not correct. It has also been pointed out that some of his definitions are excessively pedantic.

The following are some examples of his pedantic definitions: Cough (noun): a convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity Network: anything reticulated or decussated at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections It has also been pointed out that although he was largely modern in his outlook, at times he too fell a victim to the mistaken notion characteristic of eighteenth century scholars that the job of a grammarian or a lexicographer was to purify the English language. His statements like the following illustrate that attitude. … every language has likewise its improprieties and absurdities, which it is the duty of the lexicographer to correct or proscribe.16 But if we take an over-all view of his achievements as a lexicographer, we can unhesitatingly say that in spite of these occasional blemishes, Dr. Johnson’s dictionary is a superb example of excellence in English lexicography. If the eighteenth century can be credited with codifying and stabilizing the then English language which badly needed stabilization, the credit should go largely to great personalities like Dr. Johnson.

This brief account of his dictionary can, therefore, be appropriately concluded with the remark made by Sheridan that “if our language should ever be fixed, he [Dr. Johnson] must be considered by all posterity as the founder and his dictionary as the corner stone”.

Walker‘s Pronouncing Dictionary:

In matters of pronunciation, Walker’s dictionary has the same importance in the history of English that Dr. Johnson’s dictionary has in matters of English vocabulary and Lowth’s book has in matters of English grammar. Besides codifying the pronunciation of words, this dictionary provides “rules to be followed by the natives of Scotland, Ireland and London for avoiding their respective peculiarities”. When looking up the pronunciation of a word in this dictionary, one often wonders whether Walker was describing how a certain word was pronounced at that time or whether like a legislator with a cudgel in his hand he was telling his readers how that word ought to be pronounced.

Walker says, for example, that the letter “s” in the prefix dis- in words like discuss, disdain, disgrace, disguise, disgust and dismay, i.e., in words in which the initial syllable was unstressed “ought always to be pronounced as /z/”. On the basis of Walker’s dictionary we can say that some words in the eighteenth century were stressed differently from the way they are stressed these days. The noun cement, for example, had the stress on the initial syllable and the word balcony had the stress on the syllable in the middle. The real importance of this book lies in the fact that it was the first pronouncing dictionary of English.