14/5/13

Samuel Johnson: quotations & anecdotes

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is the greatest English lexicographer of all times. His masterpiece, the Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, was a great success. Samuel Johnson is often quoted and lots of funny anecdotes are told about him. Here are some of them, which my Lexicography students, 2008-2009 course, may remember, because in that course, to celebrate the tri-centenary of his birth, I gave them a lot of information about his life and works:

- his definition of lexicographer: "a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge ("alguien que escribe dicionarios, un ganapán inofensivo").

- his opinion about dictionaries: "Dictionaries are like  watches, the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true."

- admission of ignorance: once a lady asked him how he could have defined 'pastern' (properly the part of a horse's foot between the fetlock and the hoof - cuartilla del caballo, entre el espolón y la pezuña) as the knee of a horse, and he answered candidly: "Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance." I confess that I availed myself of Samuel Johnson's words, whenever a student asked me something I didn't know.

- opinion on 'naughty' words: on another occasion, a literary lady praised him for having excluded 'naughty' words from his Dictionary, and he replied: "No, Madam, I hope I have not daubed my fingers. I find, however, that you have been looking for them" ("no, señora, espero no haberme manchado los dedos. Observo, sin embargo, que usted las ha estado buscando").

- but apparently he didn't mind using this kind of words in his daily life: David Garrick, a famous actor who had been his pupil asked him to name life's greatest pleasures, and he answered: "Fucking, and the second is drinking, and I wonder why there are not more drunkards, for all can drink though all cannot fuck."

1 comentarios :

  1. Very interesting.

    It seems Samuel Johnson didn't like to mince his words.

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