Research idea - dictionaries

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 1 14:29:50 UTC 2012

Some of Samuel Johnson's definitions in "A Dictionary of the English
Language" (1755) humorously illustrate the tension between describing
and prescribing. The definition of patron is fun.

Patron: One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch
who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.

Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in
Scotland appears to support the people.

Distiller: One who makes and sells pernicious and inflammatory spirits.

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies
himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of

Politician: 1. One versed in the arts of government; one skilled in
politicks. 2. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.

These items are abbreviated and taken from a secondary source (on the web).

Perhaps one could search GB and JSTOR for pieces of these definitions.
Matches might reveal critical essays on the topic of


On Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 9:45 AM, W Brewer <brewerwa at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       W Brewer <brewerwa at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Research idea - dictionaries
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Arnold Zwicky wrote/requoted: <<<Do you know of any good critical studies
> of dictionaries? Dictionaries as prescribing/ascribing vs. describing?>>>
> WB: Understandably vague. Somewhere I have stuff on the Webster's Third
> controversy, when descriptivism hit a brick wall in 1961. So much for the
> Grande Vulgarisation of linguistic science. (Wikipedia s.v. Webster's
> Dictionary looks like a good survey.)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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