Lexicography

1.Religion:

Johnson’s dictionary:

Virtue, as founded upon reverence of God, and expectation of future rewards and punishments.

Example:

One spake much of right and wrong,
Of justice, of religion, truth and peace
And judgment from above.
Milton.

Webster’s dictionary:

Religion, in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. It therefore comprehends theology, as a system of doctrines or principles, as well as practical piety; for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion.

 

2. Paradise:

Johnson’s dictionary :

The blistful regions, in which the fifth pair was placed.

Example:

“Longer in that paradife to dwell

The law I gave to nature him forbids”.

Webster’s dictionary :

The garden of Eden, in which Adam and Eve were placed immediately after their creation.

.

3.Time:

Johnson’s dictionary:

The measure of duration.

This consideration of duration, as set out by certain periods, and marked by certain measures or epochas, is that which most properly we call time. Locke.

Webster’s dictionary :

 A particular portion or part of duration, whether past, present or future. The time was; the time has been; the time is; the time will be.

Lost time is never found again.God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets. Heb.1.

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“Borrowing −even plagiarism− is no sin to lexicographers”, as Reed stated in Noah Webster’s Debt to Samuel Johnson. How powerful is this statement? If people don’t “borrow” what previous people did and improvise them, we would be still living in the past. Webster and Johnson are not “enemies”. It may be true that some people appreciate Webster more, but a question here rises: would his dictionary exist if Johnson was not there in the first place? Both of these lexicographers were renowned for the impact they had on the society. While comparing the definition of words in Johnson and Webster’s dictionary, we notice that the definition in Webster is more detailed and specific than that in Johnson. First, the definition of “religion” in both Johnson and Webster includes “a state of reward and punishment”. However, in Webster’s dictionary it is more detailed and it included theological principles. Johnson’s dictionary only focuses on virtue “as founded upon reverence of God”, and it leaves out the beliefs, theology, and religious practices. Moreover, the definition of “paradise” was not very accurate on Johnson’s dictionary since it was defined as the blissful regions. Jerusalem can be a blissful region since Christ was crucified there, but is not where “paradise” is. Webster’s dictionary defines it specifically as the Garden of Eden. Moving on to the definition of “time”, Johnson’s dictionary was very short and it didn’t fully explain the word. If a person doesn’t know what “duration” is, then he/she wouldn’t understand the definition in Johnson’s. Webster’s dictionary did a better job since it included more key words like “past”, “present”, and “future”. As we can deduce, Webster’s dictionary set a higher standard of accuracy of definitions than Johnson’s, but Johnson “set the mold for later lexicographers” (Inventing English, Seth Lerer, 168). Surprisingly, we shouldn’t be shocked that Johnson did not define words in a broader sense. As you read the “Preface to the Dictionary“, the last point he made was ” In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed”. This foreshadows that the definitions will not be full, but they will deliver the meaning. Reed mentioned in the article cited above that “The striking similarity of many of the definitions is immediately apparent. I have recorded this similarity in three degrees: transfer, revision, and influence” (97). He further mentioned how Webster copied 333 of Johnson’s definitions word for word, and he made slight changes to other definitions he used. For example in the case of “religion”, Webster used the word “state” instead of “expectation” which Johnson used. However, Webster maintained the exact words “reward and punishment”. Also, Johnson gave 4 authorities for his definition of religion which are Benj. Johnson, Milton, Blackmore, and Watts, while Webster did not state any. Hence, Reed’s claims about the entries in Johnson and Webster are true. This last point should finally tear the veil, which is ” the goal of Johnson’s Plan was to create a dictionary that would fix the English language: that would settle matters of pronunciation, spelling, usage, and etymology; that would be ” design’d not merely for critics but for popular use”; that would arrange and order definitions ranging from literal and historical to metaphorical and current ( Lerer, 172). Although there are striking differences between the two dictionaries, one could not forget that Johnson was the initiator.

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