Did an old lady congratulate the compilar of the first dictionary....

On not including any risque language, for which he commended her for looking for the language in the first place?

I’ve heard the anecdote more than once but I don’t have a source for it. Any more info would be appreciated.

Samuel Johnson. As I recall, this exchange has been recorded in respectable biographies of Johnson.

Most probably originally in Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

The actual dictionary can be consulted here.

May I piggyback a question on this. I read somewhere that the word net is defined, in Johnson’s dictionary as “Anything reticulated or decussated with interstices between the intersections.” A check of the Google Books edition linked above shows that this is not true. Net is, less accurately but more helpfully defined as “A texture for catching fish, birds &c.” Does anyone know the origin of this story, or if the first definition of net does, in fact, appear in any dictionary?

Googling for “Anything reticulated or decussated with interstices between the intersections” does in fact come up with several quotations sites where this is indeed attributed to Johnson’s dictionary, as a definition of network, but network does not even appear as an entry in the Google version of the dictionary. Could it perhaps be from an earlier edition?

njtt, you’ve linked to a subsequent edition of the Dictionary, “improved by Tod” for the American audience in the 1820s; it’s not Dr. Johnson’s original version.

The original from 1768 is titled A Dictionary of the English Language not Johnson’s Dictionary, and it does have the definition for “network”: “Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances.”

Johnson’s dictionary was not the first dictionary. There is a dictionary from about 2300 B.C. It’s not the first English dictionary either:


I see you are right. Well, I blame Google. The “improved by Tod” version came up first on a Google Books search for Johnson’s dictionary.

And I am left to wonder, now, where the “interstices between the intersections” bit came from, which is not only in my memory (from pre-internet times), and quoted on the quotations web sites, but still does not seem to appear in the “real” Johnson’s Dictionary.

Yes, it does, http://books.google.com/books?id=03Q7AAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=intitle:dictionary+intitle:english&hl=en&ei=TnWVTqanN8fq0gGogrWKCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CEoQ6AEwAQ#v=snippet&q=network&f=false

It derives from Henry Digby Beste’s Personal and Literary Memorials (1829) and concerned the novelist, Frances Brooke (1724-89) and her sister, Sarah Digby, Beste’s great-aunt and his source for the story.