Dr. Johnson's Dictionary

I recently had the pleasure of building an iOS version of Dr. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language.

Dr. Johnson was a playright, poet, and literary critic from the 18th century. In 1741, he embarked on an eight year journey to bring forth a proper english dictionary, which did not yet exist (the oxford english dictionary would come over a hundred years later). He locked himself in the library and came out with a work of considerable merit. His dictionary was primarily excerpt driven, referencing passages from the great works of his time. Take for example his definition of "eighth":

Next in order to the seventh; the ordinal of eight.
Another yet? —— A seventh! I’ll
see no more;
And yet the eighth appears!
Shakespear's Macbeth
In the eighth month should be the reign of Saturn.
Francis Bacon
I stay reluctant seven continu’d years,
And water her ambrosial couch with tears;
The eighth, she voluntary moves to part,
Or urg’d by Jove, or her own changeful heart.
Alexander Pope’s  Odyssey

This entry has no right to be so lovely, granting us a serendipitous encounter with Macbeth, Sir Francis Bacon, and Pope’s translation of The Odyssey! Johnson’s entries are so much more colorful than the saner, but more sanitary Googleable definitions (from the oxford english):

constituting number eight in a sequence; 8th. "in the eighth century"
  • each of eight equal parts into which something is or may be divided. noun: eighth; plural noun: eighths
    "an eighth of an inch"
  • the eighth finisher or position in a race or competition.
    "she finished eighth of the eleven runners"

Nabakov, in his polemical "Good Readers and Good Writiers" wrote that:

...the good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense

If it is true that a dictionary is one of the four pillars of reading, then, I would argue that we do not spend enough time thinking about which dictionaries to use. You are probably using the wrong dictionary!

To hear more about the interesting history of Johnson's dictionary, please download Dr. Johnson's Dictionary by visiting the following link on a mobile device: Download Link . Thanks to the University of Central Florida's College of Arts and Humanities for creating the source website of this data, johnsonsdictionaryonline.com.

Technical Details

I began by crawling this website . I then loaded the entries into a sqlite3 database, attaching that database to a relatively simple swiftUI app using GRDB.swift. Search was implemented using SQLite3’s built in full text search. I love that the app functions offline, which is especially useful for reading on the subway.

I've been working on projects related to dictionaries and other tools for reading. If you are interested, please subscribe!