Who was Samuel Johnson? Google Doodle honours lexicographer behind the English dictionary

Samuel JohnsonGETTY

Samuel Johnson published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755

Today’s Doodle celebrates British lexicographer Samuel Johnson, who published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755.

Johnson worked for nine years on the book, which was nearly 18 inches tall and was described as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship”.

While other dictionaries had come before it, they lacked the wit and charm of Johnson’s definitions.

For 150 years his was the definitive English dictionary, until the Oxford English Dictionary superseded it in 1928 – some 144 years after Johnson’s death.

“Johnson’s dictionary was more than just a word list: his work provided a vast understanding of 18th century’s language and culture,” Google wrote.

The rise of search engines is responsible in part for the decline in dictionary sales, making Google’s tribute somewhat ironic.

Nonetheless, the online giant applauded Johnson’s “lasting contributions, [which] guaranteed him a place in literary history”.

As well as creating a special animated Doodle, Google has also compiled some of Johnson’s best and funniest definitions. Here are a few of our favourites.

Samuel Johnson Google DoodleGOOGLE

Samuel Johnson appears in today’s Google Doodle

Dull, adjective: Not exhilarating; not delightful: as, to make dictionaries is dull work.

Fart, noun: Wind from behind.

Love is the fart

Of every heart;

It pains a man when ‘tis kept close;

And others doth offend, when ‘tis let loose

Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English LanguageGETTY

Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language stood at 18 inches

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

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

Slubberdegullion, noun: A paltry, dirty, sorry wretch.

Quoth she, although thou hast deserv’d,

Base slubberdegullion, to be serv’d

As thou did’st vow to deal with me,

If thou had’st got the victory. Hudibras.

Who was Samuel Johnson?

As well as being a renowned lexicographer, Johnson was also revered as a poet, essayist, critic, biographer and editor. 

His eventful life led to him becoming the subject of the first modern biography – The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell.

Born September 18, 1709, Johnson suffered from tuberculosis as a child and was left disfigured as a result.

He studied at Oxford University, but was forced to drop out when his family could no longer afford his tuition. He would eventually be awarded a masters of arts by the school just before the publication of his dictionary.

He married Elizabeth ‘Tetty’ Johnson, a widow and mother-of-three almost 20 years his senior, in 1735.

The union was described as “a love-match on both sides”, and lasted until Tetty’s death from ill-health exacerbated by opium addiction in 1752.

In later life, Johnson fell in love with a married woman named Hester Thrale after being invited to live at the family home by her husband, Henry.

But after Henry’s death, Hester moved to Italy to be with an Italian singing teacher.

He died on December 13, 1784, after a suffering a stroke some months earlier.