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The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes by Samuel Johnson

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Oxford English Classics

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The plan of an English dictionary

Preface to the English dictionary

Advertisement to the fourth edition of the English dictionary

Preface to the octavo edition of the English dictionary

Observations on the tragedy of Macbeth

Proposals for printing the works of Shakespeare

Preface to Shakespeare

General observations on the plays of Shakespeare

Account of the Harleian library

Essay on the importance of small tracts

Preface to the catalogue of the Harleian library, vol. iii

Controversy between Crousaz and Warburton

Preliminary discourse to the London Chronicle

Introduction to the World Displayed

Preface to the Preceptor, containing a general plan of education

----to Rolt's dictionary

----to the translation of father Lobo's voyage to Abyssinia

An essay on epitaphs

Preface to an Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns in his
Paradise Lost

Letter to the Rev. Mr. Douglas, occasioned by his vindication of Milton,
&c. By William Lauder, A.M.

Testimonies concerning Mr. Lauder

Account of an attempt to ascertain the longitude

Considerations on the plans offered for the construction of Blackfriars

Some thoughts on agriculture, both ancient and modern; with an account
of the honour due to an English farmer

Further thoughts on agriculture

Considerations on the corn laws

A complete vindication of the licensers of the stage from the malicious
and scandalous aspersions of Mr. Brooke

Preface to the Gentleman's Magazine, 1738

An appeal to the publick. From the Gentleman's Magazine, March, 1739

Letter on fire-works

Proposals for printing, by subscription, Essays in Verse and Prose, by
Anna Williams

A project for the employment of authors

Preface to the Literary Magazine, 1756

A dissertation upon the Greek comedy, translated from Brumoy

General conclusion to Brumoy's Greek theatre


Preface to Payne's New Tables of Interest

Thoughts on the coronation of his majesty king George the third

Preface to the Artists' Catalogue for 1762


Considerations on the case of Dr. T[rapp]'s [Transcriber's note: sic]

On school chastisement

On vitious intromission

On lay patronage in the church of Scotland

On pulpit censure


One of his Majesty's principal Secretaries of State.


When first I undertook to write an English Dictionary, I had no
expectation of any higher patronage than that of the proprietors of the
copy, nor prospect of any other advantage than the price of my labour. I
knew that the work in which I engaged is generally considered as
drudgery for the blind, as the proper toil of artless industry; a task
that requires neither the light of learning, nor the activity of genius,
but maybe successfully performed without any higher quality than that of
bearing burdens with dull patience, and beating the track of the
alphabet with sluggish resolution.

Whether this opinion, so long transmitted, and so widely propagated, had
its beginning from truth and nature, or from accident and prejudice;
whether it be decreed by the authority of reason or the tyranny of
ignorance, that, of all the candidates for literary praise, the unhappy
lexicographer holds the lowest place, neither vanity nor interest
incited me to inquire. It appeared that the province allotted me was, of
all the regions of learning, generally confessed to be the least
delightful, that it was believed to produce neither fruits nor flowers;
and that, after a long and laborious cultivation, not even the barren
laurel[1] had been found upon it.

Yet on this province, my Lord, I entered, with the pleasing hope, that,
as it was low, it likewise would be safe. I was drawn forward with the
prospect of employment, which, though not splendid, would be useful; and
which, though it could not make my life envied, would keep it innocent;
which would awaken no passion, engage me in no contention, nor throw in
my way any temptation to disturb the quiet of others by censure, or my
own by flattery.

I had read, indeed, of times, in which princes and statesmen thought it
part of their honour to promote the improvement of their native tongues;
and in which dictionaries were written under the protection of
greatness. To the patrons of such undertakings I willingly paid the
homage of believing that they, who were thus solicitous for the
perpetuity of their language, had reason to expect that their actions
would be celebrated by posterity, and that the eloquence which they
promoted would be employed in their praise. But I considered such acts
of beneficence as prodigies, recorded rather to raise wonder than
expectation; and, content with the terms that I had stipulated, had not
suffered my imagination to flatter me with any other encouragement, when
I found that my design had been thought by your Lordship of importance
sufficient to attract your favour.

How far this unexpected distinction can be rated among the happy
incidents of life, I am not yet able to determine. Its first effect has
been to make me anxious, lest it should fix the attention of the publick
too much upon me; and, as it once happened to an epick poet of France,
by raising the reputation of the attempt, obstruct the reception of the
work. I imagine what the world will expect from a scheme, prosecuted
under your Lordship's influence; and I know that expectation, when her
wings are once expanded, easily reaches heights which performance never
will attain; and when she has mounted the summit of perfection, derides
her follower, who dies in the pursuit.

Not, therefore, to raise expectation, but to repress it, I here lay
before your Lordship the plan of my undertaking, that more may not be
demanded than I intend; and that, before it is too far advanced to be
thrown into a new method, I may be advertised of its defects or
superfluities. Such informations I may justly hope, from the emulation
with which those, who desire the praise of elegance or discernment, must
contend in the promotion of a design that you, my Lord, have not thought
unworthy to share your attention with treaties and with wars.

In the first attempt to methodise my ideas I found a difficulty, which
extended itself to the whole work. It was not easy to determine by what
rule of distinction the words of this dictionary were to be chosen. The
chief intent of it is to preserve the purity, and ascertain the meaning
of our English idiom; and this seems to require nothing more than that
our language be considered, so far as it is our own; that the words and
phrases used in the general intercourse of life, or found in the works
of those whom we commonly style polite writers, be selected, without
including the terms of particular professions; since, with the arts to
which they relate, they are generally derived from other nations, and
are very often the same in all the languages of this part of the world.
This is, perhaps, the exact and pure idea of a grammatical dictionary;
but in lexicography, as in other arts, naked science is too delicate for
the purposes of life. The value of a work must be estimated by its use;
it is not enough that a dictionary delights the critick, unless, at the
same time, it instructs the learner; as it is to little purpose that an
engine amuses the philosopher by the subtilty of its mechanism, if it
requires so much knowledge in its application as to be of no advantage
to the common workman.

The title which I prefix to my work has long conveyed a very
miscellaneous idea, and they that take a dictionary into their hands,
have been accustomed to expect from it a solution of almost every
difficulty. If foreign words, therefore, were rejected, it could be
little regarded, except by criticks, or those who aspire to criticism;
and however it might enlighten those that write, would be all darkness
to them that only read. The unlearned much oftener consult their
dictionaries for the meaning of words, than for their structures or
formations; and the words that most want explanation are generally terms
of art; which, therefore, experience has taught my predecessors to
spread with a kind of pompous luxuriance over their productions.

The academicians of France, indeed, rejected terms of science in their
first essay, but found afterwards a necessity of relaxing the rigour of
their determination; and, though they would not naturalize them at once
by a single act, permitted them by degrees to settle themselves among
the natives, with little opposition; and it would surely be no proof of
judgment to imitate them in an errour which they have now retracted, and
deprive the book of its chief use, by scrupulous distinctions.

Of such words, however, all are not equally to be considered as parts of
our language; for some of them are naturalized and incorporated; but
others still continue aliens, and are rather auxiliaries than subjects.
This naturalization is produced either by an admission into common
speech, in some metaphorical signification, which is the acquisition of
a kind of property among us; as we say, the _zenith_ of advancement, the
_meridian_ of life, the _cynosure_[2] of neighbouring eyes; or it is the
consequence of long intermixture and frequent use, by which the ear is
accustomed to the sound of words, till their original is forgotten, as
in _equator, satellites_; or of the change of a foreign to an
English termination, and a conformity to the laws of the speech into
which they are adopted; as in _category, cachexy, peripneumony_.

Of those which still continue in the state of aliens, and have made no
approaches towards assimilation, some seem necessary to be retained,
because the purchasers of the Dictionary will expect to find them. Such
are many words in the common law, as _capias, habeas corpus,
praemunire, nisi prius_: such are some terms of controversial
divinity, as _hypostasis_; and of physick, as the names of
diseases; and, in general, all terms which can be found in books not
written professedly upon particular arts, or can be supposed necessary
to those who do not regularly study them. Thus, when a reader not
skilled in physick happens in Milton upon this line,

--pining atrophy,
Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence,

he will, with equal expectation, look into his dictionary for the word
_marasmus_, as for _atrophy_, or _pestilence_; and will
have reason to complain if he does not find it.

It seems necessary to the completion of a dictionary, designed not
merely for criticks, but for popular use, that it should comprise, in
some degree, the peculiar words of every profession; that the terms of
war and navigation should be inserted, so far as they can be required by
readers of travels, and of history; and those of law, merchandise, and
mechanical trades, so far as they can be supposed useful in the
occurrences of common life.

But there ought, however, to be some distinction made between the
different classes of words; and, therefore, it will be proper to print
those which are incorporated into the language in the usual character,
and those which are still to be considered as foreign, in the Italick

Another question may arise with regard to appellatives, or the names of
species. It seems of no great use to set down the words _horse, dog,
cat, willow, alder, daisy, rose_, and a thousand others, of which it
will be hard to give an explanation, not more obscure than the word
itself. Yet it is to be considered, that, if the names of animals be
inserted, we must admit those which are more known, as well as those
with which we are, by accident, less acquainted; and if they are all
rejected, how will the reader be relieved from difficulties produced by
allusions to the crocodile, the chameleon, the ichneumon, and the
hyaena? If no plants are to be mentioned, the most pleasing part of
nature will be excluded, and many beautiful epithets be unexplained. If
only those which are less known are to be mentioned, who shall fix the
limits of the reader's learning? The importance of such explications
appears from the mistakes which the want of them has occasioned: had
Shakespeare had a dictionary of this kind, he had not made the
_woodbine_ entwine the _honeysuckle_; nor would Milton, with
such assistance, have disposed so improperly of his _ellops_ and
his _scorpion_.

Besides, as such words, like others, require that their accents should
be settled, their sounds ascertained, and their etymologies deduced,
they cannot be properly omitted in the Dictionary. And though the
explanations of some may be censured as trivial, because they are almost
universally understood, and those of others as unnecessary, because they
will seldom occur, yet it seems not proper to omit them; since it is
rather to be wished that many readers should find more than they expect,
than that one should miss what he might hope to find.

When all the words are selected and arranged, the first part of the work
to be considered is the orthography, which was long vague and uncertain;
which at last, when its fluctuation ceased, was in many cases settled
but by accident; and in which, according to your Lordship's observation,
there is still great uncertainty among the best criticks; nor is it easy
to state a rule by which we may decide between custom and reason, or
between the equiponderant authorities of writers alike eminent for
judgment and accuracy.

The great orthographical contest has long subsisted between etymology
and pronunciation. It has been demanded, on one hand, that men should
write as they speak; but, as it has been shown that this conformity
never was attained in any language, and that it is not more easy to
persuade men to agree exactly in speaking than in writing, it may be
asked, with equal propriety, why men do not rather speak as they write.
In France, where this controversy was at its greatest height, neither
party, however ardent, durst adhere steadily to their own rule; the
etymologist was often forced to spell with the people; and the advocate
for the authority of pronunciation found it sometimes deviating so
capriciously from the received use of writing, that he was constrained
to comply with the rule of his adversaries, lest he should lose the end
by the means, and be left alone by following the crowd.

When a question of orthography is dubious, that practice has, in my
opinion, a claim to preference which preserves the greatest number of
radical letters, or seems most to comply with the general custom of our
language. But the chief rule which I propose to follow is, to make no
innovation without a reason sufficient to balance the inconvenience of
change; and such reasons I do not expect often to find. All change is of
itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident
advantage; and as inconstancy is in every case a mark of weakness, it
will add nothing to the reputation of our tongue. There are, indeed,
some who despise the inconveniencies of confusion, who seem to take
pleasure in departing from custom, and to think alteration desirable for
its own sake; and the reformation of our orthography, which these
writers have attempted, should not pass without its due honours, but
that I suppose they hold singularity its own reward, or may dread the
fascination of lavish praise.

The present usage of spelling, where the present usage can be
distinguished, will, therefore, in this work, be generally followed; yet
there will be often occasion to observe, that it is in itself
inaccurate, and tolerated rather than chosen; particularly when, by the
change of one letter or more, the meaning of a word is obscured, as in
_farrier_ for _ferrier_, as it was formerly written, from
_ferrum_, or _fer_; in _gibberish_ for _gebrish_, the jargon of Geber,
and his chymical followers, understood by none but their own tribe. It
will be likewise sometimes proper to trace back the orthography of
different ages, and show by what gradations the word departed from its

Closely connected with orthography is pronunciation, the stability of
which is of great importance to the duration of a language, because the
first change will naturally begin by corruptions in the living speech.
The want of certain rules for the pronunciation of former ages, has made
us wholly ignorant of the metrical art of our ancient poets; and since
those who study their sentiments regret the loss of their numbers, it is
surely time to provide that the harmony of the moderns may be more

A new pronunciation will make almost a new speech; and, therefore, since
one great end of this undertaking is to fix the English language, care
will be taken to determine the accentuation of all polysyllables by
proper authorities, as it is one of those capricious phaenomena which
cannot be easily reduced to rules. Thus there is no antecedent reason
for difference of accent in the two words _dolorous_ and
_sonorous_; yet of the one Milton gives the sound in this line,

He pass'd o'er many a region _dolorous_;

and that of the other in this,

_Sonorous_ metal blowing martial sounds.

It may be likewise proper to remark metrical licenses, such as
contractions, _generous, gen'rous; reverend, rev'rend_; and
coalitions, as _region, question_.

But still it is more necessary to fix the pronunciation of
monosyllables, by placing with them words of correspondent sound, that
one may guard the other against the danger of that variation, which, to
some of the most common, has already happened; so that the words
_wound_ and _wind_, as they are now frequently pronounced,
will not rhyme to _sound_ and _mind_. It is to be remarked,
that many words written alike are differently pronounced, as
_flow_, and _brow_: which may be thus registered, _flow,
woe; brow, now_; or of which the exemplification may be generally
given by a distich: thus the words _tear_, or lacerate and
_tear_, the water of the eye, have the same letters, but may be
distinguished thus, _tear, dare; tear, peer_.

Some words have two sounds, which may be equally admitted, as being
equally defensible by authority. Thus _great_ is differently used:

For Swift and him despised the farce of state,
The sober follies of the wise and _great_. POPE.

As if misfortune made the throne her seat,
And none could be unhappy but the _great_. ROWE.

The care of such minute particulars may be censured as trifling; but
these particulars have not been thought unworthy of attention in more
polished languages.

The accuracy of the French, in stating the sounds of their letters, is
well known; and, among the Italians, Crescembeni has not thought it
unnecessary to inform his countrymen of the words which, in compliance
with different rhymes, are allowed to be differently spelt, and of which
the number is now so fixed, that no modern poet is suffered to increase

When the orthography and pronunciation are adjusted, the etymology or
derivation is next to be considered, and the words are to be
distinguished according to the different classes, whether simple, as
_day, light_, or compound, as _day-light_; whether primitive,
as, to _act_, or derivative, as _action, actionable; active,
activity_. This will much facilitate the attainment of our language,
which now stands in our dictionaries a confused heap of words without
dependence, and without relation.

When this part of the work is performed, it will be necessary to inquire
how our primitives are to be deduced from foreign languages, which may
be often very successfully performed by the assistance of our own
etymologists. This search will give occasion to many curious
disquisitions, and sometimes, perhaps, to conjectures, which to readers
unacquainted with this kind of study, cannot but appear improbable and
capricious. But it may be reasonably imagined, that what is so much in
the power of men as language, will very often be capriciously conducted.
Nor are these disquisitions and conjectures to be considered altogether
as wanton sports of wit, or vain shows of learning; our language is well
known not to be primitive or self-originated, but to have adopted words
of every generation, and, either for the supply of its necessities, or
the increase of its copiousness, to have received additions from very
distant regions; so that in search of the progenitors of our speech, we
may wander from the tropick to the frozen zone, and find some in the
valleys of Palestine, and some upon the rocks of Norway.

Beside the derivation of particular words, there is likewise an
etymology of phrases. Expressions are often taken from other languages;
some apparently, as to _run a risk, courir un risque_; and some even
when we do not seem to borrow their words; thus, to _bring about_, or
accomplish, appears an English phrase, but in reality our native word
_about_ has no such import, and is only a French expression, of which we
have an example in the common phrase _venir a bout d'une affaire_.

In exhibiting the descent of our language, our etymologists seem to have
been too lavish of their learning, having traced almost every word
through various tongues, only to show what was shown sufficiently by the
first derivation. This practice is of great use in synoptical lexicons,
where mutilated and doubtful languages are explained by their affinity
to others more certain and extensive, but is generally superfluous in
English etymologies. When the word is easily deduced from a Saxon
original, I shall not often inquire further, since we know not the
parent of the Saxon dialect; but when it is borrowed from the French, I
shall show whence the French is apparently derived. Where a Saxon root
cannot be found, the defect may be supplied from kindred languages,
which will be generally furnished with much liberality by the writers of
our glossaries; writers who deserve often the highest praise, both of
judgment and industry, and may expect at least to be mentioned with
honour by me, whom they have freed from the greatest part of a very
laborious work, and on whom they have imposed, at worst, only the easy
task of rejecting superfluities.

By tracing in this manner every word to its original, and not admitting,
but with great caution, any of which no original can be found, we shall
secure our language from being overrun with _cant_, from being crowded
with low terms, the spawn of folly or affectation, which arise from no
just principles of speech, and of which, therefore, no legitimate
derivation can be shown.

When the etymology is thus adjusted, the analogy of our language is next
to be considered; when we have discovered whence our words are derived,
we are to examine by what rules they are governed, and how they are
inflected through their various terminations. The terminations of the
English are few, but those few have hitherto remained unregarded by the
writers of our dictionaries. Our substantives are declined only by the
plural termination, our adjectives admit no variation but in the degrees
of comparison, and our verbs are conjugated by auxiliary words, and are
only changed in the preter tense.

To our language may be, with great justness, applied the observation of
Quintilian, that speech was not formed by an analogy sent from heaven.
It did not descend to us in a state of uniformity and perfection, but
was produced by necessity, and enlarged by accident, and is, therefore,
composed of dissimilar parts, thrown together by negligence, by
affectation, by learning or by ignorance.

Our inflections, therefore, are by no means constant, but admit of
numberless irregularities, which in this Dictionary will be diligently
noted. Thus _fox_ makes in the plural _foxes_, but _ox_ makes _oxen_.
_Sheep_ is the same in both numbers. Adjectives are sometimes compared
by changing the last syllable, as _proud, prouder, proudest_; and
sometimes by particles prefixed, as _ambitious, more_ ambitious, _most_
ambitious. The forms of our verbs are subject to great variety; some end
their preter tense in _ed_, as I _love_, I _loved_, I have _loved_;
which may be called the regular form, and is followed by most of our
verbs of southern original. But many depart from this rule, without
agreeing in any other, as I _shake_, I _shook_, I have _shaken_ or
_shook_, as it is sometimes written in poetry; I _make_, I _made_, I
have _made_; I _bring_, I _brought_; I _wring_, I _wrung_; and many
others, which, as they cannot be reduced to rules, must be learned from
the dictionary rather than the grammar.

The verbs are likewise to be distinguished according to their qualities,
as actives from neuters; the neglect of which has already introduced
some barbarities in our conversation, which, if not obviated by just
animadversions, may in time creep into our writings.

Thus, my Lord, will our language be laid down, distinct in its minutest
subdivisions, and resolved into its elemental principles. And who upon
this survey can forbear to wish, that these fundamental atoms of our
speech might obtain the firmness and immutability of the primogenial and
constituent particles of matter, that they might retain their substance
while they alter their appearance, and be varied and compounded, yet not

But this is a privilege which words are scarcely to expect: for, like
their author, when they are not gaining strength, they are generally
losing it. Though art may sometimes prolong their duration, it will
rarely give them perpetuity; and their changes will be almost always
informing us, that language is the work of man, of a being from whom
permanence and stability cannot be derived.

Words having been hitherto considered as separate and unconnected, are
now to be likewise examined as they are ranged in their various
relations to others by the rules of syntax or construction, to which I
do not know that any regard has been yet shown in English dictionaries,
and in which the grammarians can give little assistance. The syntax of
this language is too inconstant to be reduced to rules, and can be only
learned by the distinct consideration of particular words as they are
used by the best authors. Thus, we say, according to the present modes
of speech, The soldier died _of_ his wounds, and the sailor perished
_with_ hunger; and every man acquainted with our language would be
offended with a change of these particles, which yet seem originally
assigned by chance, there being no reason to be drawn from grammar why a
man may not, with equal propriety, be said to die _with_ a wound or
perish _of_ hunger.

Our syntax, therefore, is not to be taught by general rules, but by
special precedents; and in examining whether Addison has been with
justice accused of a solecism in this passage,

The poor inhabitant--
Starves in the midst of nature's bounty curst,
And in the loaden vineyard _dies for thirst_--.

it is not in our power to have recourse to any established laws of
speech; but we must remark how the writers of former ages have used the
same word, and consider whether he can be acquitted of impropriety, upon
the testimony of Davies, given in his favour by a similar passage:

She loaths the wat'ry glass wherein she gaz'd,
And shuns it still, although for thirst she dye.

When the construction of a word is explained, it is necessary to pursue
it through its train of phraseology, through those forms where it is
used in a manner peculiar to our language, or in senses not to be
comprised in the general explanations; as from the verb _make_ arise
these phrases, to _make love_, to _make an end_, to _make way_; as, he
_made way_ for his followers, the ship _made way_ before the wind; to
_make a bed_, to _make merry_, to _make a mock_, to _make presents_, to
_make a doubt_, to _make out an assertion_, to _make good_ a breach, to
_make good_ a cause, to _make nothing_ of an attempt, to _make
lamentation_, to _make a merit_, and many others which will occur in
reading with that view, and which only their frequency hinders from
being generally remarked.

The great labour is yet to come, the labour of interpreting these words
and phrases with brevity, fulness, and perspicuity; a task of which the
extent and intricacy is sufficiently shown by the miscarriage of those
who have generally attempted it. This difficulty is increased by the
necessity of explaining the words in the same language; for there is
often only one word for one idea; and though it be easy to translate the
words _bright, sweet, salt, bitter_, into another language, it is not
easy to explain them.

With regard to the interpretation, many other questions have required
consideration. It was some time doubted whether it be necessary to
explain the things implied by particular words; as under the term
_baronet_, whether, instead of this explanation, _a title of honour next
in degree to that of baron_, it would be better to mention more
particularly the creation, privileges, and rank of baronets; and
whether, under the word _barometer_, instead of being satisfied with
observing that it is _an instrument to discover the weight of the air_,
it would be fit to spend a few lines upon its invention, construction,
and principles. It is not to be expected, that with the explanation of
the one the herald should be satisfied, or the philosopher with that of
the other; but since it will be required by common readers, that the
explications should be sufficient for common use; and since, without
some attention to such demands, the Dictionary cannot become generally
valuable, I have determined to consult the best writers for explanations
real as well as verbal; and, perhaps, I may at last have reason to say,
after one of the augmenters of Furetier, that my book is more learned
than its author.

In explaining the general and popular language, it seems necessary to
sort the several senses of each word, and to exhibit first its natural
and primitive signification; as,

To _arrive_, to reach the shore in a voyage: he _arrived_ at a safe

Then to give its consequential meaning, to _arrive_, to reach any place,
whether by land or sea; as, he _arrived_ at his country-seat.

Then its metaphorical sense, to obtain any thing desired; as, he
_arrived_ at a peerage.

Then to mention any observation that arises from the comparison of one
meaning with another; as, it may be remarked of the word _arrive_, that,
in consequence of its original and etymological sense, it cannot be
properly applied but to words signifying something desirable; thus we
say, a man _arrived_ at happiness; but cannot say, without a mixture of
irony, he _arrived_ at misery.

_Ground_, the earth, generally as opposed to the air or water. He swam
till he reached _ground_. The bird fell to the _ground_.

Then follows the accidental or consequential signification in which
_ground_ implies any thing that lies under another; as, he laid colours
upon a rough _ground_. The silk had blue flowers on a red _ground_.

Then the remoter or metaphorical signification; as, the _ground_ of his
opinion was a false computation. The _ground_ of his work was his
father's manuscript.

After having gone through the natural and figurative senses, it will be
proper to subjoin the poetical sense of each word, where it differs from
that which is in common use; as _wanton_, applied to any thing of which
the motion is irregular without terrour; as,

In _wanton_ ringlets curl'd her hair.

To the poetical sense may succeed the familiar; as of _toast_, used to
imply the person whose health is drunk; as,

The wise man's passion, and the vain man's _toast_. POPE.

The familiar may be followed by the burlesque; as of _mellow_, applied
to good fellowship:

In all thy humours, whether grave or _mellow_. ADDISON.

Or of _bite_, used for _cheat_:

--More a dupe than wit,
Sappho can tell you how this man was _bit_. POPE.

And, lastly, may be produced the peculiar sense, in which a word is
found in any great author: as _faculties_, in Shakespeare, signifies the
powers of authority:

--This Duncan
Has borne his _faculties_ so meek, has been
So clear in his great office, that, &c.

The signification of adjectives may be often ascertained by uniting them
to substantives; as, _simple swain, simple sheep_. Sometimes the sense
of a substantive may be elucidated by the epithets annexed to it in good
authors; as, the _boundless ocean_, the _open lawns_: and where such
advantage can be gained by a short quotation, it is not to be omitted.

The difference of signification in words generally accounted synonymous,
ought to be carefully observed; as in _pride, haughtiness, arrogance_:
and the strict and critical meaning ought to be distinguished from that
which is loose and popular; as in the word _perfection_, which, though
in its philosophical and exact sense it can be of little use among human
beings, is often so much degraded from its original signification, that
the academicians have inserted in their work, _the perfection of a
language_, and, with a little more licentiousness, might have prevailed
on themselves to have added the _perfection of a dictionary_.

There are many other characters of words which it will be of use to
mention. Some have both an active and passive signification; as
_fearful_, that which gives or which feels terrour; a _fearful prodigy_,
a _fearful hare_. Some have a personal, some a real meaning; as, in
opposition to _old_, we use the adjective _young_ of animated beings,
and new of other things. Some are restrained to the sense of praise, and
others to that of disapprobation; so commonly, though not always, we
_exhort_ to good actions, we _instigate_ to ill; we _animate, incite_
and _encourage_ indifferently to good or bad. So we usually _ascribe_
good, but _impute_ evil; yet neither the use of these words, nor,
perhaps, of any other in our licentious language, is so established as
not to be often reversed by the correctest writers. I shall, therefore,
since the rules of style, like those of law, arise from precedents often
repeated, collect the testimonies on both sides, and endeavour to
discover and promulgate the decrees of custom, who has so long
possessed, whether by right or by usurpation, the sovereignty of words.

It is necessary, likewise, to explain many words by their opposition to
others; for contraries are best seen when they stand together. Thus the
verb _stand_ has one sense, as opposed to _fall_, and another, as
opposed to _fly_; for want of attending to which distinction, obvious as
it is, the learned Dr. Bentley has squandered his criticism to no
purpose, on these lines of Paradise Lost:

--In heaps
Chariot and charioteer lay overturn'd,
And fiery foaming steeds. What _stood, recoil'd_
O'erwearied, through the faint Satanic host,
Defensive scarce, or with pale fear surpris'd,
_Fled_ ignominious.--

"Here," says the critick, "as the sentence is now read, we find that
what _stood, fled_:" and, therefore, he proposes an alteration, which he
might have spared, if he had consulted a dictionary, and found that
nothing more was affirmed than, that those _fled_ who did not _fall_.

In explaining such meanings as seem accidental and adventitious, I shall
endeavour to give an account of the means by which they were introduced.
Thus, to _eke out_ any thing, signifies to lengthen it beyond its just
dimensions, by some low artifice; because the word _eke_ was the usual
refuge of our old writers, when they wanted a syllable. And _buxom_,
which means only _obedient_, is now made, in familiar phrases, to stand
for _wanton_; because in an ancient form of marriage, before the
Reformation, the bride promised complaisance and obedience, in these
terms: "I will be bonair and _buxom_ in bed and at board."

I know well, my Lord, how trifling many of these remarks will appear,
separately considered, and how easily they may give occasion to the
contemptuous merriment of sportive idleness, and the gloomy censures of
arrogant stupidity; but dulness it is easy to despise, and laughter it
is easy to repay. I shall not be solicitous what is thought of my work,
by such as know not the difficulty or importance of philological
studies; nor shall think those that have done nothing, qualified to
condemn me for doing little. It may not, however, be improper to remind
them, that no terrestrial greatness is more than an aggregate of little
things; and to inculcate, after the Arabian proverb, that drops added to
drops constitute the ocean.

There remains yet to be considered the distribution of words into their
proper classes, or that part of lexicography which is strictly critical.

The popular part of the language, which includes all words not
appropriated to particular sciences, admits of many distinctions and
subdivisions; as, into words of general use; words employed chiefly in
poetry; words obsolete; words which are admitted only by particular
writers, yet not in themselves improper; words used only in burlesque
writing; and words impure and barbarous.

Words of general use will be known by having no sign of particularity,
and their various senses will be supported by authorities of all ages.

The words appropriated to poetry will be distinguished by some mark
prefixed, or will be known by having no authorities but those of poets.

Of antiquated or obsolete words, none will be inserted, but such as are
to be found in authors, who wrote since the accession of Elizabeth, from
which we date the golden age of our language; and of these many might be
omitted, but that the reader may require, with an appearance of reason,
that no difficulty should be left unresolved in books which he finds
himself invited to read, as confessed and established models of style.
These will be likewise pointed out by some note of exclusion, but not of

The words which are found only in particular books, will be known by the
single name of him that has used them; but such will be omitted, unless
either their propriety, elegance or force, or the reputation of their
authors, affords some extraordinary reason for their reception.

Words used in burlesque and familiar compositions, will be likewise
mentioned with their proper authorities; such as _dudgeon_, from Butler,
and _leasing_, from Prior; and will be diligently characterised by marks
of distinction. Barbarous, or impure, words and expressions, may be
branded with some note of infamy, as they are carefully to be eradicated
wherever they are found; and they occur too frequently, even in the best
writers: as in Pope,

--_in_ endless error _hurl'd_.
'_Tis these_ that early taint the female soul.

In Addison:

Attend to what a _lesser_ muse indites.

And in Dryden:

A dreadful quiet felt, and _worser_ far
Than arms.--

If this part of the work can be well performed, it will be equivalent to
the proposal made by Boileau to the academicians, that they should
review all their polite writers, and correct such impurities as might be
found in them, that their authority might not contribute, at any distant
time, to the depravation of the language.

With regard to questions of purity or propriety, I was once in doubt
whether I should not attribute too much to myself, in attempting to
decide them, and whether my province was to extend beyond the
proposition of the question, and the display of the suffrages on each
side; but I have been since determined, by your Lordship's opinion, to
interpose my own judgment, and shall, therefore, endeavour to support
what appears to me most consonant to grammar and reason. Ausonius
thought that modesty forbad him to plead inability for a task to which
Caesar had judged him equal:

Cur me posse negem posse quod ille putat?

And I may hope, my Lord, that since you, whose authority in our language
is so generally acknowledged, have commissioned me to declare my own
opinion, I shall be considered as exercising a kind of vicarious
jurisdiction, and that the power which might have been denied to my own
claim, will be readily allowed me as the delegate of your Lordship.

In citing authorities, on which the credit of every part of this work
must depend, it will be proper to observe some obvious rules; such as of
preferring writers of the first reputation to those of an inferiour
rank; of noting the quotations with accuracy; and of selecting, when it
can be conveniently done, such sentences, as, besides their immediate
use, may give pleasure or instruction, by conveying some elegance of
language, or some precept of prudence or piety.

It has been asked, on some occasions, who shall judge the judges? And
since, with regard to this design, a question may arise by what
authority the authorities are selected, it is necessary to obviate it,
by declaring that many of the writers whose testimonies will be alleged,
were selected by Mr. Pope; of whom I may be justified in affirming, that
were he still alive, solicitous as he was for the success of this work,
he would not be displeased that I have undertaken it.

It will be proper that the quotations be ranged according to the ages of
their authors; and it will afford an agreeable amusement, if to the
words and phrases which are not of our own growth, the name of the
writer who first introduced them can be affixed; and if, to words which
are now antiquated, the authority be subjoined of him who last admitted
them. Thus, for _scathe_ and _buxom_, now obsolete, Milton may be cited:

--The mountain oak
Stands _scath'd_ to heaven.--
--He with broad sails
Winnow'd the _buxom_ air.--

By this method every word will have its history, and the reader will be
informed of the gradual changes of the language, and have before his
eyes the rise of some words, and the fall of others. But observations so
minute and accurate are to be desired, rather than expected; and if use
be carefully supplied, curiosity must sometimes bear its

This, my Lord, is my idea of an English dictionary; a dictionary by
which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment
facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained,
and its duration lengthened. And though, perhaps, to correct the
language of nations by books of grammar, and amend their manners by
discourses of morality, may be tasks equally difficult, yet, as it is
unavoidable to wish, it is natural likewise to hope, that your
Lordship's patronage may not be wholly lost; that it may contribute to
the preservation of ancient, and the improvement of modern writers; that
it may promote the reformation of those translators, who, for want of
understanding the characteristical difference of tongues, have formed a
chaotick dialect of heterogeneous phrases; and awaken to the care of
purer diction some men of genius, whose attention to argument makes them
negligent of style, or whose rapid imagination, like the Peruvian
torrents, when it brings down gold, mingles it with sand.

When I survey the Plan which I have laid before you, I cannot, my Lord,
but confess, that I am frighted at its extent, and, like the soldiers of
Caesar, look on Britain as a new world, which it is almost madness to
invade. But I hope, that though I should not complete the conquest, I
shall, at least, discover the coast, civilize part of the inhabitants,
and make it easy for some other adventurer to proceed further, to reduce
them wholly to subjection, and settle them under laws.

We are taught by the great Roman orator, that every man should propose
to himself the highest degree of excellence, but that he may stop with
honour at the second or third: though, therefore, my performance should
fall below the excellence of other dictionaries, I may obtain, at least,
the praise of having endeavoured well; nor shall I think it any reproach
to my diligence, that I have retired without a triumph, from a contest
with united academies, and long successions of learned compilers. I
cannot hope, in the warmest moments, to preserve so much caution through
so long a work, as not often to sink into negligence, or to obtain so
much knowledge of all its parts, as not frequently to fail by ignorance.
I expect that sometimes the desire of accuracy will urge me to
superfluities, and sometimes the fear of prolixity betray me to
omissions; that in the extent of such variety, I shall be often
bewildered, and, in the mazes of such intricacy, be frequently
entangled; that in one part refinement will be subtilized beyond
exactness, and evidence dilated in another beyond perspicuity. Yet I do
not despair of approbation from those who, knowing the uncertainty of
conjecture, the scantiness of knowledge, the fallibility of memory, and
the unsteadiness of attention, can compare the causes of errour with the
means of avoiding it, and the extent of art with the capacity of man:
and whatever be the event of my endeavours, I shall not easily regret an
attempt, which has procured me the honour of appearing thus publickly,


Your Lordship's most obedient,
and most humble servant,



[1] Lord Orrery, in a letter to Dr. Birch, mentions this as one of the
very few inaccuracies in this admirable address, the _laurel_ not
being _barren_ in any sense, but bearing fruits and flowers.
Boswell's Life, vol. i. p. 160. EDIT. 1804.

[2] Milton.

[3] Written in the year 1747.


It is the fate of those, who toil at the lower employments of life, to
be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of
good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced
by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been
without applause, and diligence without reward.

Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind
have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer
of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from
the paths, through which Learning and Genius press forward to conquest
and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that
facilitates their progress. Every other author may aspire to praise; the
lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative
recompense has been yet granted to very few.

I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a Dictionary of
the English language, which, while it was employed in the cultivation of
every species of literature, has itself been hitherto neglected;
suffered to spread, under the direction of chance, into wild exuberance;
resigned to the tyranny of time and fashion; and exposed to the
corruptions of ignorance, and caprices of innovation.

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech
copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned
my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be
regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any
established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected,
without a settled test of purity; and modes of expression to be rejected
or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical
reputation or acknowledged authority.

Having, therefore, no assistance but from general grammar, I applied
myself to the perusal of our writers; and, noting whatever might be of
use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time
the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method,
establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as
experience and analogy suggested to me: experience, which practice and
observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in
some words obscure, was evident in others.

In adjusting the ORTHOGRAPHY, which has been to this time unsettled and
fortuitous, I found it necessary to distinguish those irregularities
that are inherent in our tongue, and, perhaps, coeval with it, from
others, which the ignorance or negligence of later writers has produced.
Every language has its anomalies, which, though inconvenient, and in
themselves once unnecessary, must be tolerated among the imperfections
of human things; and which require only to be registered, that they may
not be increased, and ascertained, that they may not be confounded: but
every language has likewise its improprieties and absurdities, which it
is the duty of the lexicographer to correct or proscribe.

As language was at its beginning merely oral, all words of necessary or
common use were spoken, before they were written; and while they were
unfixed by any visible signs, must have been spoken with great
diversity, as we now observe those, who cannot read, catch sounds
imperfectly, and utter them negligently. When this wild and barbarous
jargon was first reduced to an alphabet, every penman endeavoured to
express, as he could, the sounds which he was accustomed to pronounce or
to receive, and vitiated in writing such words as were already vitiated
in speech. The powers of the letters, when they were applied to a new
language, must have been vague and unsettled, and, therefore, different
hands would exhibit the same sound by different combinations.

From this uncertain pronunciation arise, in a great part, the various
dialects of the same country, which will always be observed to grow
fewer and less different, as books are multiplied; and from this
arbitrary representation of sounds by letters proceeds that diversity of
spelling, observable in the Saxon remains, and, I suppose, in the first
books of every nation, which perplexes or destroys analogy, and produces
anomalous formations, that being once incorporated, can never be
afterwards dismissed or reformed.

Of this kind are the derivatives _length_ from _long_, _strength_ from
_strong_, _darling_ from _dear_, _breadth_ from _broad_, from _dry_,
_drought_, and from _high_, _height_, which Milton, in zeal for analogy,
writes _highth_: "Quid te exempta juvat spinis de pluribus una?" to
change all would be too much, and to change one is nothing.

This uncertainty is most frequent in the vowels, which are so
capriciously pronounced, and so differently modified, by accident or
affectation, not only in every province, but in every mouth, that to
them, as is well known to etymologists, little regard is to be shown in
the deduction of one language from another.

Such defects are not errours in orthography, but spots of barbarity
impressed so deep in the English language, that criticism can never wash
them away: these, therefore, must be permitted to remain untouched: but
many words have likewise been altered by accident, or depraved by
ignorance, as the pronunciation of the vulgar has been weakly followed;
and some still continue to be variously written, as authors differ in
their care or skill: of these it was proper to inquire the true
orthography, which I have always considered as depending on their
derivation, and have, therefore, referred them to their original
languages: thus I write _enchant_, _enchantment_, _enchanter_, after the
French, and _incantation_ after the Latin; thus _entire_ is chosen
rather than _intire_, because it passed to us not from the Latin
_integer_, but from the French _entier_.

Of many words it is difficult to say, whether they were immediately
received from the Latin or the French, since at the time when we had
dominions in France, we had Latin service in our churches. It is,
however, my opinion, that the French generally supplied us; for we have
few Latin words, among the terms of domestick use, which are not French;
but many French, which are very remote from Latin.

Even in words of which the derivation is apparent, I have been often
obliged to sacrifice uniformity to custom; thus I write, in compliance
with a numberless majority, _convey_ and _inveigh_, _deceit_ and
_receipt_, _fancy_ and _phantom_; sometimes the derivative varies from
the primitive, as _explain_ and _explanation_, _repeat_ and

Some combinations of letters, having the same power, are used
indifferently without any discoverable reason of choice, as in _choak_,
_choke_; _soap_, _sape_; _fewel_, _fuel_, and many others; which I have
sometimes inserted twice, that those, who search for them under either
form, may not search in vain.

In examining the orthography of any doubtful word, the mode of spelling
by which it is inserted in the series of the Dictionary, is to be
considered as that to which I give, perhaps, not often rashly, the
preference. I have left, in the examples, to every author his own
practice unmolested, that the reader may balance suffrages, and judge
between us: but this question is not always to be determined by reputed
or by real learning: some men, intent upon greater things, have thought
little on sounds and derivations; some, knowing in the ancient tongues,
have neglected those in which our words are commonly to be sought. Thus
Hammond writes _fecibleness_ for _feasibleness_, because, I suppose, he
imagined it derived immediately from the Latin; and some words, such as
_dependant, dependent, dependance, dependence_, vary their final
syllable, as one or another language is present to the writer.

In this part of the work, where caprice has long wantoned without
control, and vanity sought praise by petty reformation, I have
endeavoured to proceed with a scholar's reverence for antiquity, and a
grammarian's regard to the genius of our tongue. I have attempted few
alterations, and among those few, perhaps, the greater part is from the
modern to the ancient practice; and, I hope, I may be allowed to
recommend to those, whose thoughts have been, perhaps, employed too
anxiously on verbal singularities, not to disturb, upon narrow views, or
for minute propriety, the orthography of their fathers. It has been
asserted, that for the law to be _known_, is of more importance than to
be _right_. "Change," says Hooker, "is not made without inconvenience,
even from worse to better." There is in constancy and stability a
general and lasting advantage, which will always overbalance the slow
improvements of gradual correction. Much less ought our written language
to comply with the corruptions of oral utterance, or copy that which
every variation of time or place makes different from itself, and
imitate those changes which will again be changed, while imitation is
employed in observing them.

This recommendation of steadiness and uniformity does not proceed from
an opinion, that particular combinations of letters have much influence
on human happiness; or that truth may not be successfully taught by
modes of spelling fanciful and erroneous: I am not yet so lost in
lexicography, as to forget that _words are the daughters of earth, and
that things are the sons of heaven_. Language is only the instrument of
science, and words are but the signs of ideas: I wish, however, that the
instrument might be less apt to decay, and that signs might be
permanent, like the things which they denote.

In settling the orthography, I have not wholly neglected the
pronunciation, which I have directed, by printing an accent upon the
acute or elevated syllable. It will sometimes be found, that the accent
is placed, by the author quoted, on a different syllable from that
marked in the alphabetical series; it is then to be understood, that
custom has varied, or that the author has, in my opinion, pronounced
wrong. Short directions are sometimes given, where the sound of letters
is irregular; and if they are sometimes omitted, defect in such minute
observations will be more easily excused, than superfluity.

In the investigation both of the orthography and signification of words,
their ETYMOLOGY was necessarily to be considered, and they were,
therefore, to be divided into primitives and derivatives. A primitive
word is that which can be traced no further to any English root; thus
_circumspect, circumvent, circumstance, delude, concave_, and
_complicate_, though compounds in the Latin, are to us primitives.
Derivatives are all those that can be referred to any word in English of
greater simplicity.

The derivatives I have referred to their primitives, with an accuracy
sometimes needless; for who does not see that _remoteness_ comes from
_remote, lovely_ from _love, concavity_ from _concave_, and
_demonstrative_ from _demonstrate_? But this grammatical exuberance the
scheme of my work did not allow me to repress. It is of great
importance, in examining the general fabrick of a language, to trace one
word from another, by noting the usual modes of derivation and
inflection; and uniformity must be preserved in systematical works,
though sometimes at the expense of particular propriety.

Among other derivatives, I have been careful to insert and elucidate the
anomalous plurals of nouns and preterites of verbs, which in the
Teutonick dialects are very frequent, and, though familiar to those who
have always used them, interrupt and embarrass the learners of our

The two languages from which our primitives have been derived are the
Roman and Teutonick: under the Roman I comprehend the French and
provincial tongues; and under the Teutonick range the Saxon, German, and
all their kindred dialects. Most of our polysyllables are Roman, and our
words of one syllable are very often Teutonick.

In assigning the Roman original, it has, perhaps, sometimes happened
that I have mentioned only the Latin, when the word was borrowed from
the French; and, considering myself as employed only in the illustration
of my own language, I have not been very careful to observe whether the
Latin word be pure or barbarous, or the French elegant or obsolete.

For the Teutonick etymologies, I am commonly indebted to Junius and
Skinner, the only names which I have forborne to quote when I copied
their books; not that I might appropriate their labours or usurp their
honours, but that I might spare a perpetual repetition by one general
acknowledgment. Of these, whom I ought not to mention but with the
reverence due to instructers and benefactors, Junius appears to have
excelled in extent of learning, and Skinner in rectitude of
understanding. Junius was accurately skilled in all the northern
languages; Skinner probably examined the ancient and remoter dialects
only by occasional inspection into dictionaries; but the learning of
Junius is often of no other use than to show him a track, by which he
may deviate from his purpose, to which Skinner always presses forward by
the shortest way. Skinner is often ignorant, but never ridiculous:
Junius is always full of knowledge, but his variety distracts his
judgment, and his learning is very frequently disgraced by his

The votaries of the northern muses will not, perhaps, easily restrain
their indignation, when they find the name of Junius thus degraded by a
disadvantageous comparison; but whatever reverence is due to his
diligence, or his attainments, it can be no criminal degree of
censoriousness to charge that etymologist with want of judgment, who can
seriously derive _dream_ from _drama_, because _life is a drama, and a
drama is a dream_; and who declares with a tone of defiance, that no man
can fail to derive _moan_ from [Greek: monos], (monos,) _single_ or
_solitary_, who considers that grief naturally loves to be alone[1].

Our knowledge of the northern literature is so scanty, that of words
undoubtedly Teutonick, the original is not always to be found in any
ancient language; and I have, therefore, inserted Dutch or German
substitutes, which I consider not as radical, but parallel, not as the
parents, but sisters of the English.

The words, which are represented as thus related by descent or
cognation, do not always agree in sense; for it is incident to words, as
to their authors, to degenerate from their ancestors, and to change
their manners when they change their country. It is sufficient, in
etymological inquiries, if the senses of kindred words be found such as
may easily pass into each other, or such as may both be referred to one
general idea.

The etymology, so far as it is yet known, was easily found in the
volumes, where it is particularly and professedly delivered; and, by
proper attention to the rules of derivation, the orthography was soon
adjusted. But to COLLECT the WORDS of our language was a task of greater
difficulty: the deficiency of dictionaries was immediately apparent; and
when they were exhausted, what was yet wanting must be sought by
fortuitous and unguided excursions into books, and gleaned as industry
should find, or chance should offer it, in the boundless chaos of a
living speech. My search, however, has been either skilful or lucky; for
I have much augmented the vocabulary.

As my design was a dictionary, common or appellative, I have omitted all
words which have relation to proper names; such as _Arian, Socinian,
Calvinist, Benedictine, Mahometan_; but have retained those-of a more
general nature, as _Heathen, Pagan_.

Of the terms of art I have received such as could be
found either in books of science or technical dictionaries; and have
often inserted, from philosophical writers, words which are supported,
perhaps, only by a single authority, and which, being not admitted into
general use, stand yet as candidates or probationers, and must depend
for their adoption on the suffrage of futurity.

The words which our authors have introduced by their knowledge of
foreign languages, or ignorance of their own, by vanity or wantonness,
by compliance with fashion or lust of innovation, I have registered as
they occurred, though commonly only to censure them, and warn others
against the folly of naturalizing useless foreigners to the injury of
the natives.

I have not rejected any by design, merely because they were unnecessary
or exuberant; but have received those which by different writers have
been differently formed, as _viscid_, and _viscidity, viscous_, and
_viscosity_. Compounded or double words I have seldom noted, except when
they obtain a signification different from that which the components
have in their simple state. Thus _highwayman, woodman_, and
_horsecourser_, require an explanation; but of _thieflike_ or
_coachdriver_, no notice was needed, because the primitives contain the
meaning of the compounds.

Words arbitrarily formed by a constant and settled analogy, like
diminutive adjectives in _ish_, as _greenish, bluish_; adverbs in _ly_,
as _dully, openly_; substantives in _ness_, as _vileness, faultiness_;
were less diligently sought, and sometimes have been omitted, when I had
no authority that invited me to insert them; not that they are not
genuine and regular offsprings of English roots, but, because their
relation to the primitive being always the same, their significations
cannot be mistaken.

The verbal nouns in _ing_, such as the _keeping_ of the _castle_, the
_leading_ of the _army_, are always neglected, or placed only to
illustrate the sense of the verb, except when they signify things as
well as actions, and have, therefore, a plural number, as _dwelling,
living_; or have an absolute and abstract signification, as _colouring,
painting, learning_.

The participles are likewise omitted, unless, by signifying rather habit
or quality than action, they take the nature of adjectives; as a
_thinking_ man, a man of prudence; a _pacing_ horse, a horse that can
pace: these I have ventured to call _participial adjectives_. But
neither are these always inserted, because they are commonly to be
understood without any danger of mistake, by consulting the verb.

Obsolete words are admitted, when they are found in authors not
obsolete, or when they have any force or beauty that may deserve

As composition is one of the chief characteristicks of a language, I
have endeavoured to make some reparation for the universal negligence of
my predecessors, by inserting great numbers of compounded words, as may
be found under _after, fore, new, night, fair_, and many more. These,
numerous as they are, might be multiplied, but that use and curiosity
are here satisfied, and the frame of our language and modes of our
combination amply discovered.

Of some forms of composition, such as that by which _re_ is prefixed to
note _repetition_, and _un_ to signify _contrariety_ or _privation_, all
the examples cannot be accumulated, because the use of these particles,
if not wholly arbitrary, is so little limited, that they are hourly
affixed to new words, as occasion requires, or is imagined to require

There is another kind of composition more frequent in our language than,
perhaps, in any other, from which arises to foreigners the greatest
difficulty. We modify the signification of many verbs by a particle
subjoined; as to _come off_, to escape by a fetch; to _fall on_, to
attack; to _fall off_, to apostatize; to _break off_, to stop abruptly;
to _bear out_, to justify; to _fall in_, to comply; to _give over_, to
cease; to _set off_, to embellish; to _set in_, to begin a continual
tenour; to _set out_, to begin a course or journey; to _take off_, to
copy; with innumerable expressions of the same kind, of which some
appear wildly irregular, being so far distant from the sense of the
simple words, that no sagacity will be able to trace the steps by which
they arrived at the present use. These I have noted with great care; and
though I cannot flatter myself that the collection is complete, I
believe I have so far assisted the students of our language, that this
kind of phraseology will be no longer insuperable; and the combinations
of verbs and particles, by chance omitted, will be easily explained by
comparison with those that may be found.

Many words yet stand supported only by the name of Bailey, Ainsworth,
Philips, or the contracted Dict, for _Dictionaries_ subjoined; of these
I am not always certain, that they are read in any book but the works of
lexicographers. Of such I have omitted many, because I had never read
them; and many I have inserted, because they may, perhaps, exist, though
they have escaped my notice: they are, however, to be yet considered as
resting only upon the credit of former dictionaries. Others, which I
considered as useful, or know to be proper, though I could not at
present support them by authorities, I have suffered to stand upon my
own attestation, claiming the same privilege with my predecessors, of
being sometimes credited without proof.

The words, thus selected and disposed, are grammatically considered;
they are referred to the different parts of speech; traced, when they
are irregularly inflected, through their various terminations; and
illustrated by observations, not, indeed, of great or striking
importance, separately considered, but necessary to the elucidation of
our language, and hitherto neglected or forgotten by English

That part of my work on which I expect malignity most frequently to
fasten is, the _Explanation_; in which I cannot hope to satisfy those,
who are, perhaps, not inclined to be pleased, since I have not always
been able to satisfy myself. To interpret a language by itself is very
difficult; many words cannot be explained by synonymes, because the idea
signified by them has not more than one appellation; nor by paraphrase,
because simple ideas cannot be described. When the nature of things is
unknown, or the notion unsettled and indefinite, and various in various
minds, the words by which such notions are conveyed, or such things
denoted, will be ambiguous and perplexed. And such is the fate of
hapless lexicography, that not only darkness, but light, impedes and
distresses it; things may be not only too little, but too much known, to
be happily illustrated. To explain, requires the use of terms less
abstruse than that which is to be explained, and such terms cannot
always be found; for as nothing can be proved but by supposing something
intuitively known, and evident without proof, so nothing can be defined
but by the use of words too plain to admit a definition.

Other words there are, of which the sense is too subtile and evanescent
to be fixed in a paraphrase; such are all those which are by the
grammarians termed expletives, and, in dead languages, are suffered to
pass for empty sounds, of no other use than to fill a verse, or to
modulate a period, but which are easily perceived in living tongues to
have power and emphasis, though it be sometimes such as no other form of
expression can convey.

My labour has likewise been much increased by a class of verbs too
frequent in the English language, of which the signification is so loose
and general, the use so vague and indeterminate, and the senses detorted
so widely from the first idea, that it is hard to trace them through the
maze of variation, to catch them on the brink of utter inanity, to
circumscribe them by any limitations, or interpret them by any words of
distinct and settled meaning; such are _bear, break, come, cast, fall,
get, give, do, put, set, go, run, make, take, turn, throw_. If of these
the whole power is not accurately delivered, it must be remembered, that
while our language is yet living, and variable by the caprice of every
one that speaks it, these words are hourly shifting their relations, and
can no more be ascertained in a dictionary, than a grove, in the
agitation of a storm, can be accurately delineated from its picture in
the water. The particles are among all nations applied with so great
latitude, that they are not easily reducible under any regular scheme of
explication: this difficulty is not less, nor, perhaps, greater, in
English, than in other languages. I have laboured them with diligence, I
hope with success; such at least as can be expected in a task, which no
man, however learned or sagacious, has yet been able to perform.

Some words there are which I cannot explain, because I do not understand
them; these might have been omitted very often with little
inconvenience, but I would not so far indulge my vanity, as to decline
this confession; for when Tully owns himself ignorant whether _lessus_,
in the twelve tables, means a _funeral song_, or _mourning garment_; and
Aristotle doubts whether [Greek: oureus] in the Iliad, signifies a
_mule_, or _muleteer_, I may surely, without shame, leave some
obscurities to happier industry, or future information.

The rigour of interpretative lexicography requires that _the
explanation_, and _the word explained, should be always reciprocal_;
this I have always endeavoured, but could not always attain. Words are
seldom exactly synonymous; a new term was not introduced, but because
the former was thought inadequate: names, therefore, have often many
ideas, but few ideas have many names. It was then necessary to use the
proximate word, for the deficiency of single terms can very seldom be
supplied by circumlocution; nor is the inconvenience great of such
mutilated interpretations, because the sense may easily be collected
entire from the examples.

In every word of extensive use, it was requisite to mark the progress of
its meaning, and show by what gradations of intermediate sense it has
passed from its primitive to its remote and accidental signification; so
that every foregoing explanation should tend to that which follows, and
the series be regularly concatenated from the first notion to the last.

This is specious, but not always practicable; kindred senses may be so
interwoven, that the perplexity cannot be disentangled, nor any reason
be assigned why one should be ranged before the other. When the radical
idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a consecutive
series be formed of senses in their nature collateral? The shades of
meaning sometimes pass imperceptibly into each other, so that though on
one side they apparently differ, yet it is impossible to mark the point
of contact. Ideas of the same race, though not exactly alike, are
sometimes so little different, that no words can express the
dissimilitude, though the mind easily perceives it, when they are
exhibited together; and sometimes there is such a confusion of
acceptations, that discernment is wearied and distinction puzzled, and
perseverance herself hurries to an end, by crowding together what she
cannot separate.

These complaints of difficulty will, by those that have never considered
words beyond their popular use, be thought only the jargon of a man
willing to magnify his labours, and procure veneration to his studies by
involution and obscurity. But every art is obscure to those that have
not learned it: this uncertainty of terms, and commixture of ideas, is
well known to those who have joined philosophy with grammar; and, if I
have not expressed them very clearly, it must be remembered that I am
speaking of that which words are insufficient to explain.

The original sense of words is often driven out of use by their
metaphorical acceptations, yet must be inserted for the sake of a
regular origination. Thus I know not whether _ardour_ is used for
_material heat_, or whether _flagrant_, in English, ever signifies the
same with _burning_; yet such are the primitive ideas of these words,
which are, therefore, set first, though without examples, that the
figurative senses may be commodiously deduced.

Such is the exuberance of signification which many words have obtained,
that it was scarcely possible to collect all their senses; sometimes the
meaning of derivatives must be sought in the mother term, and sometimes
deficient explanations of the primitive may be supplied in the train of
derivation. In any case of doubt or difficulty, it will be always proper
to examine all the words of the same race; for some words are slightly
passed over to avoid repetition; some admitted easier and clearer
explanation than others; and all will be better understood, as they are
considered in greater variety of structures and relations.

All the interpretations of words are not written with the same skill, or
the same happiness: things, equally easy in themselves, are not all
equally easy to any single mind. Every writer of a long work commits
errours, where there appears neither ambiguity to mislead, nor obscurity
to confound him: and, in a search like this, many felicities of
expression will be casually overlooked, many convenient parallels will
be forgotten, and many particulars will admit improvement from a mind
utterly unequal to the whole performance.

But many seeming faults are to be imputed rather to the nature of the
undertaking, than the negligence of the performer. Thus some
explanations are unavoidably reciprocal or circular, as _hind, the
female of the stag_; _stag, the male of the hind_: sometimes easier
words are changed into harder, as _burial_ into _sepulture_, or
_interment_, _drier_ into _desiccative_, _dryness_ into _siccity_ or
_aridity_, _fit_ into _paroxysm_; for the easiest word, whatever it be,
can never be translated into one more easy. But easiness and difficulty
are merely relative; and, if the present prevalence of our language
should invite foreigners to this Dictionary, many will be assisted by
those words, which now seem only to increase or produce obscurity. For
this reason I have endeavoured frequently to join a Teutonick and Roman
interpretation, as to _cheer_, to _gladden_ or _exhilarate_, that every
learner of English may be assisted by his own tongue.

The solution of all difficulties, and the supply of all defects, must be
sought in the examples, subjoined to the various senses of each word,
and ranged according to the time of their authors.

When I first collected these authorities, I was desirous that every
quotation should be useful to some other end than the illustration of a
word; I, therefore, extracted from philosophers principles of science;
from historians remarkable facts; from chymists complete processes; from
divines striking exhortations; and from poets beautiful descriptions.
Such is design, while it is yet at a distance from execution. When the
time called upon me to range this accumulation of elegance and wisdom
into an alphabetical series, I soon discovered that the bulk of my
volumes would fright away the student, and was forced to depart from my
scheme of including all that was pleasing or useful in English
literature, and reduce my transcripts very often to clusters of words,
in which scarcely any meaning is retained: thus to the weariness of
copying, I was condemned to add the vexation of expunging. Some passages
I have yet spared, which may relieve the labour of verbal searches, and
intersperse with verdure and flowers the dusty deserts of barren

The examples, thus mutilated, are no longer to be con sidered as
conveying the sentiments or doctrine of their authors; the word, for the
sake of which they are inserted, with all its appendant clauses, has
been carefully preserved; but it may sometimes happen, by hasty
detruncation, that the general tendency of the sentence may be changed:
the divine may desert his tenets, or the philosopher his system.

Some of the examples have been taken from writers who were never
mentioned as masters of elegance, or models of style; but words must be
sought where they are used; and in what pages, eminent for purity, can
terms of manufacture or agriculture be found? Many quotations serve no
other purpose, than that of proving the bare existence of words, and
are, therefore, selected with less scrupulousness than those which are
to teach their structures and relations.

My purpose was to admit no testimony of living authors, that I might not
be misled by partiality, and that none of my contemporaries might have
reason to complain; nor have I departed from this resolution, but when
some performance of uncommon excellence excited my veneration, when my
memory supplied me from late books with an example that was wanting, or
when my heart, in the tenderness of friendship, solicited admission for
a favourite name.

So far have I been from any care to grace my pages with modern
decorations, that I have studiously endeavoured to collect examples and
authorities from the writers before the Restoration, whose works I
regard as _the wells of English undefiled_, as the pure sources of
genuine diction. Our language, for almost a century, has, by the
concurrence of many causes, been gradually departing from its original
Teutonick character, and deviating towards a Gallick structure and
phraseology[2], from which it ought to be our endeavour to recall it, by
making our ancient volumes the ground-work of style, admitting among the
additions of later times only such as may supply real deficiencies, such
as are readily adopted by the genius of our tongue, and incorporate
easily with our native idioms.

But as every language has a time of rudeness antecedent to perfection,
as well as of false refinement and declension, I have been cautious lest
my zeal for antiquity might drive me into times too remote, and crowd my
book with words now no longer understood. I have fixed Sidney's work for
the boundary, beyond which I make few excursions. From the authors which
rose in the time of Elizabeth, a speech might be formed adequate to all
the purposes of use and elegance. If the language of theology were
extracted from Hooker and the translation of the Bible; the terms of
natural knowledge from Bacon; the phrases of policy, war, and navigation
from Raleigh; the dialect of poetry and fiction from Spenser and Sidney;
and the diction of common life from Shakespeare, few ideas would be lost
to mankind, for want of English words, in which they might be expressed.

It is not sufficient that a word is found, unless it be so combined as
that its meaning is apparently determined by the tract and tenour of the
sentence; such passages I have, therefore, chosen, and when it happened
that any author gave a definition of a term, or such an explanation as
is equivalent to a definition, I have placed his authority as a
supplement to my own, without regard to the chronological order, that is
otherwise observed.

Some words, indeed, stand unsupported by any authority, but they are
commonly derivative nouns or adverbs, formed from their primitives by
regular and constant analogy, or names of things seldom occurring in
books, or words of which I have reason to doubt the existence.

There is more danger of censure from the multiplicity than paucity of
examples; authorities will sometimes seem to have been accumulated
without necessity or use, and, perhaps, some will be found, which might,
without loss, have been omitted. But a work of this kind is not hastily
to be charged with superfluities: those quotations, which to careless or
unskilful perusers appear only to repeat the same sense, will often
exhibit, to a more accurate examiner, diversities of significations, or,
at least, afford different shades of the same meaning: one will show the
word applied to persons, another to things; one will express an ill,
another a good, and a third a neutral sense; one will prove the
expression genuine from an ancient author; another will show it elegant
from a modern: a doubtful authority is corroborated by another of more
credit; an ambiguous sentence is ascertained by a passage clear and
determinate: the word, how often soever repeated, appears with new
associates, and in different combinations, and every quotation
contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language.
When words are used equivocally, I receive them in either sense; when
they are metaphorical, I adopt them in their primitive acceptation.

I have sometimes, though rarely, yielded to the temptation of exhibiting
a genealogy of sentiments, by showing how one author copied the thoughts
and diction of another: such quotations are, indeed, little more than
repetitions, which might justly be censured, did they not gratify the
mind, by affording a kind of intellectual history.

The various syntactical structures occurring in the examples have been
carefully noted; the license or negligence, with which many words have
been hitherto used, has made our style capricious and indeterminate;
when the different combinations of the same word are exhibited together,
the preference is readily given to propriety, and I have often
endeavoured to direct the choice.

Thus I have laboured, by settling the orthography, displaying the
analogy, regulating the structures, and ascertaining the signification
of English words, to perform all the parts of a faithful lexicographer:
but I have not always executed my own scheme, or satisfied my own
expectations. The work, whatever proofs of diligence and attention it
may exhibit, is yet capable of many improvements: the orthography which
I recommend is still controvertible; the etymology which I adopt is
uncertain, and, perhaps, frequently erroneous; the explanations are
sometimes too much contracted, and sometimes too much diffused; the
significations are distinguished rather with subtilty than skill, and
the attention is harassed with unnecessary minuteness.

The examples are too often injudiciously truncated, and perhaps
sometimes, I hope very rarely, alleged in a mistaken sense; for in
making this collection I trusted more to memory, than, in a state of
disquiet and embarrassment, memory can contain, and purposed to supply,
at the review, what was left incomplete in the first transcription.

Many terms, appropriated to particular occupations, though necessary and
significant, are undoubtedly omitted; and, of the words most studiously
considered and exemplified, many senses have escaped observation.

Yet these failures, however frequent, may admit extenuation and apology.
To have attempted much is always laudable, even when the enterprise is
above the strength that undertakes it: To rest below his own aim is
incident to every one whose fancy is active, and whose views are
comprehensive; nor is any man satisfied with himself, because he has
done much, but because he can conceive little. When first I engaged in
this work, I resolved to leave neither words nor things unexamined, and
pleased myself with a prospect of the hours which I should revel away in
feasts of literature, with the obscure recesses of northern learning
which I should enter and ransack, the treasures with which I expected
every search into those neglected mines to reward my labour, and the
triumph with which I should display my acquisitions to mankind. When I
had thus inquired into the original of words, I resolved to show
likewise my attention to things; to pierce deep into every science, to
inquire the nature of every substance of which I inserted the name, to
limit every idea by a definition strictly logical, and exhibit every
production of art or nature in an accurate description, that my book
might be in place of all other dictionaries, whether appellative or
technical. But these were the dreams of a poet, doomed at last to wake a
lexicographer. I soon found that it is too late to look for instruments,
when the work calls for execution, and that whatever abilities I had
brought to my task, with those I must finally perform it. To deliberate
whenever I doubted, to inquire whenever I was ignorant, would have
protracted the undertaking without end, and, perhaps, without much
improvement; for I did not find by my first experiments, that what I had
not of my own was easily to be obtained: I saw that one inquiry only
gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was
not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed; and that
thus to pursue perfection, was, like the first inhabitants of Arcadia,
to chase the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed
to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them.

I then contracted my design, determining to confide in myself, and no
longer to solicit auxiliaries, which produced more incumbrance than
assistance; by this I obtained at least one advantage, that I set limits
to my work, which would in time be ended, though not completed.

Despondency has never so far prevailed as to depress me to negligence;
some faults will at last appear to be the effects of anxious diligence
and persevering activity. The nice and subtile ramifications of meaning
were not easily avoided by a mind intent upon accuracy, and convinced of
the necessity of disentangling combinations, and separating similitudes.
Many of the distinctions which to common readers appear useless and
idle, will be found real and important by men versed in the school
philosophy, without which no dictionary can ever be accurately compiled,
or skilfully examined.

Some senses however there are, which, though not the same, are yet so
nearly allied, that they are often confounded. Most men think
indistinctly, and, therefore, cannot speak with exactness; and,
consequently, some examples might be indifferently put to either
signification: this uncertainty is not to be imputed to me, who do not
form, but register the language; who do not teach men how they should
think, but relate how they have hitherto expressed their thoughts.

The imperfect sense of some examples I lamented, but could not remedy,
and hope they will be compensated by innumerable passages selected with
propriety, and preserved with exactness; some shining with sparks of
imagination, and some replete with treasures of wisdom.

The orthography and etymology, though imperfect, are not imperfect for
want of care, but because care will not always be successful, and
recollection or information come too late for use.

That many terms of art and manufacture are omitted, must be frankly
acknowledged; but for this defect I may boldly allege that it was
unavoidable: I could not visit caverns to learn the miner's language,
nor take a voyage to perfect my skill in the dialect of navigation, nor
visit the warehouses of merchants, and shops of artificers, to gain the
names of wares, tools, and operations, of which no mention is found in
books; what favourable accident or easy inquiry brought within my reach,
has not been neglected; but it had been a hopeless labour to glean up
words, by courting living information, and contesting with the
sullenness of one, and the roughness of another.

To furnish the academicians _della Crusca_ with words of this kind, a
series of comedies called _la Fiera_, or the Fair, was professedly
written by Buonarotti; but I had no such assistant, and, therefore, was
content to want what they must have wanted likewise, had they not
luckily been so supplied.

Nor are all words, which are not found in the vocabulary, to be lamented
as omissions. Of the laborious and mercantile part of the people, the
diction is in a great measure casual and mutable; many of their terms
are formed for some temporary or local convenience, and though current
at certain times and places, are in others utterly unknown. This
fugitive cant, which is always in a state of increase or decay, cannot
be regarded as any part of the durable materials of a language, and,
therefore, must be suffered to perish with other things unworthy of

Care will sometimes betray to the appearance of negligence. He that is
catching opportunities which seldom occur, will suffer those to pass by
unregarded, which he expects hourly to return; he that is searching for
rare and remote things, will neglect those that are obvious and
familiar: thus many of the most common and cursory words have been
inserted with little illustration, because in gathering the authorities,
I forbore to copy those which I thought likely to occur, whenever they
were wanted. It is remarkable that, in reviewing my collection, I found
the word SEA unexemplified.

Thus it happens, that in things difficult there is danger from
ignorance, and in things easy from confidence; the mind, afraid of
greatness, and disdainful of littleness, hastily withdraws herself from
painful searches, and passes with scornful rapidity over tasks not
adequate to her powers; sometimes too secure for caution, and again too
anxious for vigorous effort; sometimes idle in a plain path, and
sometimes distracted in labyrinths, and dissipated by different

A large work is difficult, because it is large, even though all its
parts might singly be performed with facility; where there are many
things to be done, each must be allowed its share of time and labour, in
the proportion only which it bears to the whole; nor can it be expected,
that the stones which form the dome of a temple, should be squared and
polished like the diamond of a ring.

Of the event of this work, for which, having laboured it with so much
application, I cannot but have some degree of parental fondness, it is
natural to form conjectures. Those who have been persuaded to think well
of my design, will require that it should fix our language, and put a
stop to those alterations which time and chance have hitherto been
suffered to make in it without opposition. With this consequence I will
confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear, that
I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can
justify. When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after
another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises
to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the
lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a
nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall
imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from
corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary
nature, and clear the world at once from folly, vanity and affectation.

With this hope, however, academies have been instituted, to guard the
avenues of their languages, to retain fugitives, and repulse intruders;
but their vigilance and activity have hitherto been vain; sounds are too
volatile and subtile for legal restraints; to enchain syllables, and to
lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to
measure its desires by its strength. The French language has visibly
changed under the inspection of the academy; the style of Amelot's
translation of father Paul is observed by Le Courayer to be _un pen
passe_; and no Italian will maintain, that the diction of any modern
writer is not perceptibly different from that of Boccace, Machiavel, or

Total and sudden transformations of a language seldom happen; conquests
and migrations are now very rare; but there are other causes of change,
which, though slow in their operation, and invisible in their progress,
are, perhaps, as much superiour to human resistance, as the revolutions
of the sky, or intumescence of the tide. Commerce, however necessary,
however lucrative, as it depraves the manners, corrupts the language;
they that have frequent intercourse with strangers, to whom they
endeavour to accommodate themselves, must in time learn a mingled
dialect, like the jargon which serves the traffickers on the
Mediterranean and Indian coasts. This will not always be confined to the
exchange, the warehouse, or the port, but will be communicated by
degrees to other ranks of the people, and be at last incorporated with
the current speech.

There are likewise internal causes equally forcible. The language most
likely to continue long without alteration, would be that of a nation
raised a little, and but a little, above barbarity, secluded from
strangers, and totally employed in procuring the conveniencies of life;
either without books, or, like some of the Mahometan countries, with
very few: men thus busied and unlearned, having only such words as
common use requires, would, perhaps, long continue to express the same
notions by the same signs. But no such constancy can be expected in a
people polished by arts, and classed by subordination, where one part of
the community is sustained and accommodated by the labour of the other.
Those who have much leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock
of ideas; and every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will
produce new words, or combinations of words. When the mind is unchained
from necessity, it will range after convenience; when it is left at
large in the fields of speculation, it will shift opinions; as any
custom is disused, the words that expressed it must perish with it; as
any opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same
proportion as it alters practice.

As by the cultivation of various sciences, a language is amplified, it
will be more furnished with words deflected from their original sense;
the geometrician will talk of a "courtier's zenith, or the eccentrick
virtue of a wild hero;" and the physician of "sanguine expectations and
phlegmatick delays." Copiousness of speech will give opportunities to
capricious choice, by which some words will be preferred, and others
degraded; vicissitudes of fashion will enforce the use of new, or extend
the signification of known terms. The tropes of poetry will make hourly
encroachments, and the metaphorical will become the current sense:
pronunciation will be varied by levity or ignorance, and the pen must at
length comply with the tongue; illiterate writers will, at one time or
other, by publick infatuation, rise into renown, who, not knowing the
original import of words, will use them with colloquial licentiousness,
confound distinction, and forget propriety. As politeness increases,
some expressions will be considered as too gross and vulgar for the
delicate, others as too formal and ceremonious for the gay and airy; new
phrases are, therefore, adopted, which must, for the same reasons, be in
time dismissed. Swift, in his petty treatise on the English language,
allows that new words must sometimes be introduced, but proposes that
none should be suffered to become obsolete. But what makes a word
obsolete, more than general agreement to forbear it? and how shall it be
continued, when it conveys an offensive idea, or recalled again into the
mouths of mankind, when it has once become unfamiliar by disuse, and
unpleasing by unfamiliarity?

There is another cause of alteration more prevalent than any other,
which yet in the present state of the world cannot be obviated. A
mixture of two languages will produce a third distinct from both; and
they will always be mixed, where the chief part of education, and the
most conspicuous accomplishment, is skill in ancient or in foreign
tongues. He that has long cultivated another language, will find its
words and combinations crowd upon his memory; and haste and negligence,
refinement and affectation, will obtrude borrowed terms and exotick

The great pest of speech is frequency of translation. No book was ever
turned from one language into another, without imparting something of
its native idiom; this is the most mischievous and comprehensive
innovation; single words may enter by thousands, and the fabrick of the
tongue continue the same; but new phraseology changes much at once; it
alters not the single stones of the building, but the order of the
columns. If an academy should be established for the cultivation of our
style; which I, who can never wish to see dependance multiplied, hope
the spirit of English liberty will hinder or destroy, let them, instead
of compiling grammars and dictionaries, endeavour, with all their
influence, to stop the license of translators, whose idleness and
ignorance, if it be suffered to proceed, will reduce us to babble a
dialect of France.

If the changes, that we fear, be thus irresistible, what remains but to
acquiesce with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of
humanity? It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we
palliate what we cannot cure. Life may be lengthened by care, though
death cannot be ultimately defeated: tongues, like governments, have a
natural tendency to degeneration; we have long preserved our
constitution, let us make some struggles for our language.[3]

In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be
immortal, I have devoted this book, the labour of years, to the honour
of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology,
without a contest, to the nations of the continent. The chief glory of
every people arises from its authors: whether I shall add any thing by
my own writings to the reputation of English literature, must be left to
time: much of my life has been lost under the pressures of disease; much
has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for
the day that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment
useless or ignoble, if, by my assistance, foreign nations, and distant
ages, gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the
teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repositories of
science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.

When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book,
however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man
that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular I
have not promised to myself: a few wild blunders, and risible
absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may,
for a time, furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance into
contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can
be wanting some who distinguish desert; who will consider that no
dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, since, while it is
hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away;
that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that
even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he, whose design
includes whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does
not understand; that a writer will sometimes be hurried by eagerness to
the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task, which Scaliger
compares to the labours of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious
is not always known, and what is known is not always present; that
sudden fits of inadvertency will surprise vigilance, slight avocations
will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken
learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory, at
the moment of need, for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive
readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.

In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be
forgotten that much likewise is performed; and though no book was ever
spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little
solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it
condemns; yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it, that the English
Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and
without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of
retirement, or under the shelter of academick bowers, but amidst
inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow. It may repress
the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that if our language is
not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt, which no
human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient
tongues, now immutably fixed, and comprised in a few volumes, be yet,
after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the
aggregated knowledge, and co-operating diligence of the Italian
academicians, did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the
embodied criticks of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their
work, were obliged to change its economy, and give their second edition
another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of
perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude, what
would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those, whom I
wished to please, have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage
are empty sounds: I, therefore, dismiss it with frigid tranquillity,
having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise[4].


[1] That I may not appear to have spoken too irreverently of Junius, I
have here subjoined a few specimens of his etymological

BANISH, _religare, ex banno vel territorio exigere, in exitium agere_.
Gal. _bannir_. It. _bandire, bandeggiare_. H. _bandir_. B. _bannen_.
Aevi medii scriptores bannire dicebant. V. Spelm. in Bannum & in
Banleuga. Quoniam vero regionum urbiumq; limites arduis plerumq;
montibus, altis fluminibus, longis deniq; flexuosisq; angustissimarum
viarum anfractibus includebantur, fieri potest id genus limites _ban_
dici ab eo quod [Greek: Bannatai] et [Greek: Bannatroi] Tarentinis
olim, sicuti tradit Hesychius, vocabantur [Greek: ahi loxoi kai mae
ithuteneis hodoi], "obliquae ac minime in rectum tendentes viae." Ac
fortasse quoque huc facit quod [Greek: Banous], eodem Hesychio teste,
dicebant [Greek: horae strangulae], montes arduos.

EMPTY, emtie, _vacuus, inanis_. A.S. [Anglo-Saxon: Aemtig]. Nescio an
sint ab [Greek: emeo] vel [Greek: emetuio]. Vomo, evomo, vomitu evacue.
Videtur interim etymologiam hanc non obscure firmare codex Rush. Mat.
xii. 22. ubi antique scriptum invenimus [Anglo-Saxon: gemoeted hit
emetig]. "Invenit eam vacantem."

HILL, _mons, collis_. A.S. [Anglo-Saxon: hyll]. Quod videri potest
abscissum ex [Greek: kolonae] vel [Greek: kolonos]. Collis, tumulus,
locus in plano editior. Hom. II. B. v. 811. [Greek: esti de tis
proparoithe poleos aipeia kolonae]. Ubi authori brevium scholiorum
[Greek: kolonae] exp. [Greek: topos eis hupsos anaekon geolofos

NAP, _to take a nap. Dormire, condormiscere_. Cym. _heppian_. A.S.
[Anglo-Saxon: hnaeppan]. Quod postremum videri potest desumptum ex
[Greek: knephas], obscuritas, tenebrae: nihil enim aeque solet
conciliare somnum, quam caliginosa profundae noctis obscuritas.

STAMMERER, Balbus, blaesus. Goth. [Gothic: STAMMS]. A.S. [Anglo-Saxon:
stamer, stamur]. D. _stam_. B. _stameler_. Su. _stamma_. Isl. _stamr_.
Sunt a [Greek: stomulein] vel [Greek: stomullein], nimia loquacitate
alios offendere; quod impedite loquentes libentissime garrire soleant;
vel quod aliis nimii semper videantur, etiam parcissime loquentes.

[2] The structure of Hume's sentences is French. For Johnson's opinion
of it, see Boswell, i. 420. Edit. 1816.

[3] Blackstone very frequently denounces the use of Norman French in
our law proceedings, and in Parliament as a badge of slavery, which
he could have wished to see "fall into total oblivion, unless it be
reserved as a solemn memento to remind us that our liberties are
mortal, having once been destroyed by a foreign force." Much amusing
and interesting research on the once prevalent use of French in
England, is exhibited in Barrington's Observations on the more
Antient Statutes.

And Frenche she spake full fetously;
After the schole of _Stratforde at Bowe_,
For Frenche of Paris was to her unknowne.
Chaucer's Prologue to the Prioress' Tale.

[4] Dr. Johnson's Dictionary was published on the fifteenth day of
April 1755, in two vols. folio, price 4_l_. 10_s._ bound. The
booksellers who engaged in this national work were the Knaptons,
Longman, Hitch and Co. Millar, and Dodsley.


Many are the works of human industry, which to begin and finish are
hardly granted to the same man. He that undertakes to compile a
dictionary, undertakes that, which, if it comprehends the full extent of
his design, he knows himself unable to perform. Yet his labours, though
deficient, may be useful, and with the hope of this inferiour praise, he
must incite his activity, and solace his weariness.

Perfection is unattainable, but nearer and nearer approaches may be
made; and, finding my Dictionary about to be reprinted, I have
endeavoured, by a revisal, to make it less reprehensible. I will not
deny that I found many parts requiring emendation, and many more capable
of improvement. Many faults I have corrected, some superfluities I have
taken away, and some deficiencies I have supplied. I have methodised
some parts that were disordered, and illuminated some that were obscure.
Yet the changes or additions bear a very small proportion to the whole.
The critick will now have less to object, but the student who has bought
any of the former copies needs not repent; he will not, without nice
collation, perceive how they differ; and usefulness seldom depends upon
little things.

For negligence or deficience, I have, perhaps, not need of more apology
than the nature of the work will furnish: I have left that inaccurate
which never was made exact, and that imperfect which never was

[1] Published in folio, 1773.


Having been long employed in the study and cultivation of the English
language, I lately published a dictionary, like those compiled by the
academies of Italy and France, for the use of such as aspire to
exactness of criticism or elegance of style.

But it has been since considered that works of that kind are by no means
necessary to the greater number of readers, who, seldom intending to
write or presuming to judge, turn over books only to amuse their
leisure, and to gain degrees of knowledge suitable to lower characters,
or necessary to the common business of life: these know not any other
use of a dictionary than that of adjusting orthography, or explaining
terms of science, or words of infrequent occurrence or remote

For these purposes many dictionaries have been written by different
authors, and with different degrees of skill; but none of them have yet
fallen into my hands by which even the lowest expectations could be
satisfied. Some of their authors wanted industry, and others literature:
some knew not their own defects, and others were too idle to supply

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