On This Day - April 15th

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Published on 15th April 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language, written by Samuel Johnson and sometimes published as Johnson's Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.

Commissioned 1746 by a group of London booksellers for the sum of 1,500 guineas — equivalent to about £220,000 today — it took Johnson seven years to complete the work, despite his early assurances that he could do so in three. He completed the dictionary alone, with only clerical assistance to copy illustrative quotations which he had selected and marked in books.

Up until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 173 years afterwards, Johnson's was considered the pre-eminent English dictionary and "easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who laboured under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time".

A Dictionary of the English Language was somewhat large and very expensive. Its pages were 18 inches / 46 cm tall and nearly 20 inches / 51 cm wide. No bookseller could possibly hope to print the book without and outside of a few special editions of the Bible no book of this heft and size had even been set to type.

The first edition was the 1755 'Folio', comprising two large volumes and featuring full literary quotes by those authors that Johnson quoted, such as Dryden and Shakespeare. It was followed a few weeks later by a second edition published in 165 weekly parts.

An abridged edition was published in 1756 in two volumes with entries, "abstracted from the folio edition by the author", laid out as two columns per page. This version did not feature the literary quotes, just the author quoted. This made it cheaper to produce and buy and it sold over a thousand copies a year for the next 30 years bringing "The Dictionary" to the reach of every literate home.

How many words did the original edition of the dictionary contain?

The answer is here

The first edition contained 42,773 word.

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