How well do you know Samuel Johnson's dictionary? – quiz

As a popular search engine marks the great lexicographer’s birthday, it’s a good time for some defining questions. Can you get them right without Googling?

  1. Google is celebrating Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday with a new doodle. He was born on 18 September 1709, but when was his hugely influential A Dictionary of the English Language published?

    1. 1729

    2. 1745

    3. 1755

    4. 1765

  2. How long did it take Johnson to write the work?

    1. Two years

    2. Eight years

    3. Twenty years

    4. Fifty years

  3. How many entries did it run to?

    1. 4,776

    2. 21,123

    3. 42,773

    4. 100,000

  4. Which profession does Johnson describe in the dictionary as that of a 'harmless drudge'?

    1. Lamp lighter

    2. Publisher

    3. MP

    4. Lexicographer

  5. And to what is he referring here? “A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.”

    1. A politician

    2. A literary agent

    3. An actor

    4. A publisher

  6. Which expression does Johnson describe in his definition as 'a ludicrous word'?

    1. Jobberknowl

    2. Loggerhead

    3. Far-fetch

    4. Whig

  7. What is Johnson defining here? 'A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.'

    1. Whisky

    2. Bran

    3. Wheat

    4. Oats

  8. What is his definition of 'depucelate'?

    1. To bereave of virginity.

    2. A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity.

    3. Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.

    4. A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.

  9. What is Johnson defining here? 'To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.'

    1. The verb 'to castrate'

    2. The verb 'to worm'

    3. The verb 'to dock'

    4. The verb 'to deflea'

  10. Johnson did make the occasional mistake – for example defining a pastern as 'the knee of a horse' when it is in fact 'the part of a horse's foot between the fetlock and the hoof' (says Collins). How does Boswell say he responded when asked why he made the mistake?

    1. 'Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.'

    2. 'My dear friend, clear your mind of cant.'

    3. 'Words are but the signs of ideas.'

    4. 'A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but, one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.'


1:C, 2:B, 3:C, 4:D, 5:A, 6:C, 7:D, 8:A, 9:B, 10:A



    Alison Flood

    The GuardianTramp

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