Historical development of a word

Role 2 of quotations: to display the historical development of a word or sense

In an anticipation of the 19th-century classical Greek lexicographer, Frank Passow (1786-1833), and of the OED founders who consciously followed in Passow’s footsteps, Johnson also hoped that listing the illustrative quotations in their historical order would reveal the semantic development of a word or sense. As he wrote in his Preface (1755), ‘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’ (Johnson 2005: 57).

This is an early statement on the value of historical textual evidence in dictionaries, in the form of chronologically ordered quotations. Such evidence was to become a mainstay of the new 19th-century historical lexicography underlying the birth of the OED, as described in our section on OED1 intellectual climate.

Go to next page on Johnson’s dictionary: ‘Genealogy of sentiments’.

Last updated on 22 August 2019