Sam’s the man!

My reader may have noticed on his/her cyber-trek that Google has just celebrated the anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday. He was undoubtedly its predecessor – lexicographically speaking – before the more modern encyclopedias appeared. And his dictionary reflected his character as a poet, wit and literary compiler.

So in an idle moment I had a closer look at the title page of his magnum opus, particularly the quotation from Horace, the Latin poet. Why did he include it? I surmised. And as usual the only English translations available are themselves hundreds of years old and as obscure as most find the Latin! Why on earth do so many classicists still insist on imagining that the Romans wrote in out-moded language? They didn’t. They were modern and often vernacular.

So here’s what Horace is quoted as saying – in real English! He is talking about being a poet.

He’ll take on the job of an objective editor.
And if he spots something that lacks sparkle and weight
He’ll have the courage to delete it,
Even if it goes against the grain to do so…..

He goes on to recommend that a poet should use words with ‘expressive’ meanings, as used by Rome’s own classical authors – but he doesn’t mean archaic Latin. So Sam seems to be treating his lexicon almost as poetry – something beyond the mundane and by no means old-fashioned.

What a man!

Author: janus

I'm back......and front - in sunny Sussex-by-the-sea

8 thoughts on “Sam’s the man!”

  1. Ever read’ The History of Rasselas’?
    Written by Johnson to offset his mother’s funeral costs. Plot ludicrous, but the whole point of his writing it was the use of vocabulary. Everything is repeated ‘n’ times starting with polysyllabic latinisms and simplifying language until the last time it is in utterly prosaic everyday English. The middle class bought it and learned vocabulary from the text. It became a social cachet to own a copy.
    Perhaps it was a ploy to sell more dictionaries?
    I had a girlfriend driven mad by this book in her University course. She used to read it and study it with me there to use as a living dictionary, with the mother I had, I knew most of the latinisms. Certainly improved her vocabulary! Even 300 years later.

  2. Absolutely ghastly crap as a story, but very very clever. Incredibly abstruse use of synonyms.

  3. I have to admit to a nasty game with words, frequently use vocab unheard of three hundred years or so. No one ever know what I have said.
    Tell someone that something/one is contumacious and they smile and say thank you!
    When trapped by the LGBT brigade, assure them that you are awaiting sole sex relationships that are able to achieve parturition from the anus to achieve social parity with heteros.
    More than a few will agree cheerfully. (Just never crack up before you have offstaged!)

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