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Today’s Google Doodle honors Samuel Johnson on his 308th birthday. Johnson is regarded as a great Lexicographer.

Today some of you might Google to know meaning of lexicographer; however, few years ago you would have reached out for a dictionary – only to know that “lexicographer” is a person who compiles dictionaries!

Irony, isn’t it? Yes, and there is more. But in a while. Before that here is something interesting about Samuel Johnson.

A Dictionary of the English Language

Johnson, who grew up in Staffordshire, did not create the first English dictionary, but those that preceded him were poor comparisons, often stiff and dry.

It took Johnson nine years to complete (he rarely got up before noon), although he had originally promised to complete it in three. Once finished it was as much of a work of art as one of reference, full of witty definitions. Here are some examples:

  • Dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work
  • Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words
  • Mouth-friend: Someone who pretends to be your friend
  • Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people
  • Pension: An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country
  • Stockjobber: a low wretch who gets money by buying and selling shares

It was hardly comprehensive: the first edition contained just 42,773 entries, compared to more than 250,000 words in the English language.

Here are some of his good, witty and thought-provoking quotes:

  • Love is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise
  • Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful
  • It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time
  • The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading in order to write. A man will turn over half a library to make a book
  • A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain.
  • What is easy is seldom excellent
  • Wine gives a man nothing. It only puts in motion what had been locked up in frost
  • When making your choice in life, do not neglect to live
  • Being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned
  • One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.
  • Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.
  • You can’t be in politics unless you can walk in a room and know in a minute who’s for you and who’s against you.
  • There are some sluggish men who are improved by drinking; as there are fruits that are not good until they are rotten.
  • Actions are visible, though motives are secret.
  • Man alone is born crying, lives complaining, and dies disappointed.
  • I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.
  • Paradise Lost is a book that, once put down, is very hard to pick up again. (Amazing! My type of sarcasm J)
  • Worth seeing? Yes; but not worth going to see. (Deep! Still trying to peel many hidden layers)
  • It is not true that people are naturally equal for no two people can be together for even a half an hour without one acquiring an evident superiority over the other. (Deep! Profound!)
  • Resolve not to be poor: whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult. (Very original view on why Poverty is bad – not because of material things, but as a threat to liberty and virtues)
  • Between falsehood and useless truth there is little difference. As gold which he cannot spend will make no man rich, so knowledge which cannot apply will make no man wise. (Sharp! And so relevant in today’s world of Social Media propaganda)
  • The two offices of memory are collection and distribution.
  • Disease generally begins that equality which death completes (Equality is a myth! Except when you are dead)
  • Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. (Classic insult!)
  • So many objections may be made to everything, that nothing can overcome them but the necessity of doing something. (Perfect for perpetual nay-sayers and fault-finders)

And the three which I like most are:

  • “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
  • Praise, like gold and diamonds, owes its value only to its scarcity (that’s why I am economical in my praise J)
  • The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. (I heard it from Warren Buffett first. Later got to know that Samuel Johnson said it)

 

Now the Irony – Part 2:

The rise of Google – the search engine – has been partly responsible for declines in dictionary sales. Garry Kasparov in his book “How Life Imitates Chess” has written about how Dictionary, and Encyclopedia were made less important, if not redundant by search engines – mainly Google.

And this happened not only to print version but also to the digital version of Encyclopedia – such as Microsoft Encarta – digital multimedia encyclopedia created by MS in 1993 and which they had to close in 2009.

Dictionary, and Encyclopedia are not dead. But the way we access them have been changed completely. And for those who have not yet figured out the difference – it is Sorting versus Searching!

Dictionary is based on sorting principle – you organize words in a sorted manner so that you can look-up later based on a particular technique (algorithm). A Search engine such as Google is based on searching principle. It doesn’t sort information continuously but searches using an efficient algorithm as and when needed (actually this is not completely true – Google does sort to some extent – called indexing).

Enough on the topic for now, but I’ll follow up with a post on this interesting topic – Searching vs Sorting – that will elaborate more on the irony of Google celebrating birthday of a lexicographer!

 

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