[On other pages, comments about Dr Johnson in Bulletins, 1983-1975, 1972-1961.

SSS International Conference 2005 commemorates the publication of Dr Johnson's dictionary.


Dr Johnson: Comments in SSS literature.


Toronto Star.

  Locked in our spelling. Niall Waldman.
April 15, 1755, was the date that Dr. Samuel Johnson released to the world his famous Dictionary of the English Language.

J30 2002/1.

  What's Freespeling and the World Vote really about? Richard Lawrence Wade, founder of www.freespeling.com
It wasn't until 1755 that Dr Samuel Johnson fulfilled what was by then a crying need - to achieve a Standard Spelling. He codified English into a firm set of axeptable spellings. His dictionary was nesesary, scholarly ... magnificent but that was almost two and a half centuries ago.

Lets try to make 2005 - the Two Hundred and Fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Johnson's great dictionary - lets make it the year when many of us dare to boldly go and actually, successfully make a major advance towards modernizing the spelling of the English language.

J29 2001.

  Freespeling.com - A Vehicle of Change, Not a Rubric for Reform. Richard Lawrence Wade.
Rigid orthography, locked in a cage since the egregious Dr. Samuel Johnson finished his admirable dictionary in 1755, is no longer appropriate in an era of the Internet, text messages and emails.

J29 2001.

  How People Spelled When They Could Spell as They Liked. Valerie Yule.
If people could spell as they liked, what sort of chaos would result? What happened when they could? People actually could spell as they liked before the late 18th-century dictionaries of Johnson and others. This was before the snobbery and "conspicuous consumption" common in 18th-century society, as well as the 19th century's emphasis on elite correctness. These combined to set English spelling in concrete, less than two hundred and fifty years ago.

J29 2001.

  One reason for this lack of "spelling as you speak" could have been the lack of a Received Pronunciation. There was none even in Johnson's time, as he complained. There was no prime way of speaking among all the dialects even of London. So it could be wiser, from Aberdeen to Tiverton, to share as common a spelling as possible, in order to communicate.

J28 2000/2.

  Lobbying in New Zealand. Allan Campbell.
This repetitious fiddling with teaching methods, training, and resources, will, in the Society's view, not solve the problem if the basic tool of literacy - spelling - is left in its parlous, antiquated, illogical state. It has not been reviewed in about 250 years, not since Dr Samuel Johnson published his dictionary. But even then his chosen spellings (from many alternatives) often were not consistent or fonemic, as he was keen not to obscure the origins of English words. Many of the word sounds represented have changed.

J27 2000/1.

  Lobbying Literacy Authorities. Masha Bell.
55. Printing brought about the need to standardise spelling. When Dr. Johnson compiled his dictionary which became the authoritative guide to English spelling after 1755, he often had to choose between several alternatives that were around at the time. He mostly chose what to him seemed the most logical alternative, but he was very keen not to obscure the origins of English words and so did very little to make English spelling more consistent or phonemic, in stark contrast to the Grimm brothers and their compilations of German fairy stories and folk tales, along with a dictionary for German and a German grammar. They already made a serious effort to devise a sensible system for the spelling of German and not merely record the spellings they found.

J25 1999/1.

  Langscape 6. Surveying contemporary English usage. Pam Peters.
The elimination of second and redundant consonants was openly discussed by language commentators of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and practiced increasingly by printers who helped to forge the modern standard. Successive editions of dictionaries help to show the reduction of extra final consonants in words such as "logic(k)"/ "music(k)", and "festival(l)"/ "sentinel(l)", and the impetus was carried further into words such as "distil(l)", "enrol(l)", "fulfil(l)", among others which remain variable today. Johnson's dictionary of 1755 serves to show that this was a somewhat ad hoc process, of which he became less convinced in progressing through the alphabet: compare his spelling of "downhil" with "uphill". and "distil" with "instill". The removal of the second "l" has the unfortunate effect of hacking into the etymologically meaningful base "roll", "fill", "hill", and "still" of such words, and the reduced spellings were never equally established on both sides of the Atlantic.

J24, 1998/2.

  Spelling the Chicago Tribune Way, 1934-1975, Part I. John Burke Shipley.
[re Chicago Tribune] Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century printers and Samuel Johnson's dictionary of 1755, it charged (as had Bernard Shaw and many another), brought on the sorry state of English orthography.

J17 1994/2.

  Spelling and Society: Orthografy and Reading. Valerie Yule.
English spelling has chanjed since Johnson's standardisation in 1755, which he tried to base on etymology to bypass the dialect problem. The chanjes have reflected chanjes in society, and in the function of education to screen out or to raise up.

J13 1992/2.

  Children's abilities and 'Cut' spelling reform. Valerie Yule.
We can look at a range of possibilities by surveying mankind from China to Peru as the great lexicographer Dr Johnson would have recommended.

J13 1992/2.

  Editorial. Kenneth Ives.
Samuel Johnson's Dictionary soon provided a standard, after its publication in 1756. However, that standard has not since been substantially revised and updated. And the emfasis on standardization has been used as an obstacle to simplification.

J13 1992/2.

  Letter. Harvie Barnard.
... our orthographic problems resulting from our adoption of Johnson's archaic English spellings of a bygone age.

J11 1989/2.

  Letter. Harvie Barnard.
In promoting English as the 'Language of the World', we are reminded of the present program here in the US to make US English our 'Official Language'. But altho most of us speak and write a more or less Johnsonian English according to Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of 1755, the US English organization has not as yet defined precisely what form of English they would legalize as 'Official'.

The Honorary Chairman of US English, S I Hayakawa, has been in communication with me, and has agreed that the archaic English of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries is not what we need as the basis of an international medium of communication. I have also had extensive correspondence with other leading members of the US English group, including their Director of Research, who has agreed with me that Johnsonian English may well require some modification before it is wholly acceptable as a world-wide language for all English speaking, reading, writing and spelling purposes.

J9 1988/3.

  Submission to the National Curriculum English Working Group, from the Simplified Spelling Society July 1988. Chris Upward.
... words like terror (which in 1755 Dr Johnson still wrote as terrour).

J8 1988/2.

  The Importance of Spelling for English Culture. Valerie Yule replies to Sue Palmer.
So 'anti-changers' try to disregard or fight against th fact that English spelling has always changed, howevr slowly, even since Samuel Johnson, and that it is stil changing - through new words, brand-labels on shelvs, and even by th dificultis of our semilitrat masses. Th problem is that changes which ar uncoordinated or unreserchd may only ad furthr to our colections of inconsistencis.

J8 1988/2.

  Editorial. Chris Upward.
Here lexicographers have a special role: from Johnson and Webster, they have been in effect arbiters of spelling rectitude in the English-speaking world, yet paradoxically they see their role as reflecting rather than forming public opinion. They thus confront spelling reformers with a chicken-and-egg impasse.

J7 1988/1.

  Form and Reform: the Four Great Communicative Shifts. Tom McArthur.
Fix was a word loved in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They 'fixed' the written language, and Samuel Johnson wanted to and was encouraged to 'fix' the spoken language, but discovered he couldn't do it.

J6 1987/3.

  Carol M Eastman. Language Planning: an Introduction. Review by Kenneth H Ives.
... Samuel Johnson's mistaken etymologies - he did not know French or German from which many words come directly; ...

J2. 1986/1.

  When Noah Missed the Boat. Harvie Barnard.
In addition to discussing the grammar and syntactical difficulties of English, Webster's Dissertations included an Appendix primarily related to the peculiarities of the spelling handed down to us by Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of the English Language, publisht in 1755.

[See also many other references to Johnson in this article.]

J2. 1986/1.

  'Spelling Reform Now'. H. W. Herbert.
So when Dr. Johnson froze our spelling <ough> had 7 different pronunciations and still has.

Traditionalists do not object to having to use a glossary to read Chaucer; they do not think any less of Milton's splendid epitaph on Shakespeare because Milton spells in pre-Johnson form dramaticke and conceaving.

Media Radio 4.

  BBC Radio 4, Saturday 1 March 2003. Intervewer.
So who made the rules? Even Shakespeare famously spelt his own name in a variety of ways? Dr Samuel Johnson is the man who usually gets the blame. Critics reckon that our crisis set in with his famous standardizing dictionary, published in 1755.

Leaflet 2001.

  Why English spelling should be updated. Masha Bell.
English spelling has remained virtually the same since 1755.
Dr. Johnson stamped his authority on English spelling with his famous dictionary. In his day many words were still spelt differently by different writers. He chose his preferred versions, or linked different meanings to different spellings, e.g. 'there - their', paying very little heed to pronunciation. Many of our worst problems are due to him. His work is now very much due for a revue.

Leaflet 1984.

  Tough Though Thought. Stanley Gibbs.
By 1700 English spelling had become fixed in its present form and Dr Johnson's dictionary of 1755 merely served to record these spellings.

Newsletters SS17.

 Jean Wilkinson.
Samuel Johnson's monumental dictionary (1755) preferred the oldest spellings, especially Latin spellings.

Newsletters. News7.

  Phonetic simplification of English spelling. Gilbert Rae.
When Dr Johnson's dictionary was published in 1755, he must have given up all hope of English spelling ever again being so near to phonetic simplicity as it once had been. There were too many immigrant words from other countries. It is obvious however, that he was revealing his subconscious belief in the advantage of a phonetic language, when he said "The best spoken English, as a general rule, is that which deviates least from the written word".

Newsletters. News5.

  Professor Downing's visit on 26th May, 1984.
Alas for the efforts of spelling reformers, by 1700 English spelling became almost stabilized. Dr. Johnson's dictionary publisht in 1755, sanctioned sum spellings and condemned others. Speaking generally, Dr. Johnson set his seal of approval on the alredy stablized - but unsatisfactory - spellings of the 1700s.

Pamflet 10.

  Spelling Reform and our Schools. by W. J. Reed.
The spellings we use today are almost entirely those as published by Dr. Johnson in his dictionary of 1755. The serious study of philology, etymology and phonetics had hardly begun at that time. It is impossible to justify the continued use of many of his spellings more than 200 years later. The worthy doctor did his best in the light of what was then known. We ought to be able to do very much better in the light of all that has been discovered since his time.

We should not cling to Dr. Johnson's 18th century spelling after it has been shown to be etymologically unreliable and educationally harmful.

So with spelling; it is not likely that we should need to reform it at frequent intervals, though, on the other hand, there could probably be no excuse for neglecting it for 200 years as we have done since Dr. Johnson's time.

Pamflet 5.

  A breef history ov inglish speling.
It woz Dr. Johnson'z dikshonary, isued in 1755, dhat sankshond surten spelingz and kondemd udherz. Hiz repuetaeshon az a literary man gaev presteezh to hiz wurk az a leksikografer.

Nou Dr. Johnson woz not in dhe leest ankshus to reprezent dhe spoeken langgwej ov hiz dae, nor did he realiez hou much it diferd from dhe langgwej ov dhe siksteenth sentuery. ... Indeed, Dr. Johnson had niedher dhe nolej ov dhe history ov dhe langgwej nor dhe fonetik traening rekwizit in a reformer ov dhe speling. He woz kontent to taek dhe speling az it woz, meerly maeking a chois (and not aulwaez a wiez wun) whaer a wurd woz spelt in diferent waez.

Sins hiz dae dhaer haz been litl chaenj in dhe printed form ov wurdz. We noe longger spel musick, cloathes, or tyger, az he did; but in dhe maen we spel az Dr. Johnson spelt. Dhe pronunsyaeshon, houever, haz kontinued to chaenj, bikuming mor remoet from dhe speling in sum kaesez; in udherz, tending to be influënst bie it.

Dhe printerz braut about a surten ueniformity, on which Dr. Johnson baest hiz dikshonary. Dhis, to aul intents and purposez, iz stil our standard ov korekt speling.

Pamflet 4.

  Dhe eesthetik argument bie William Archer.
Ar we to konkluud dhat duering aul dhe sentueriz doun to Dr. Johnson our speling woz graduealy impruuving, and dhat he arievd, bie a misteeryus dispensaeshon ov Providens, to petrifie orthografy just at dhe moement when in its fluid staet, it had hapend to acheev a mirakuelus maksimum ov "buety"?

Pamflet 3.

  Dhe Etimolojikal Argument bie William Archer.
ACHE: Eroenyusly derievd bie Johnson from Greek άχος.

AISLE: Orijinaly from dhe Latin ala, a wing, Oeld French ele, eele. Dhe s haz kum in thruu konfuezhon widh isle, Latin insula. Eeven Johnson, dhoe unsurten whedher to deriev it from ala, or from allée, a paath, sujested dhat it aut to be riten aile.

Pyoneer.

  The pyoneer ov simplifyd speling. September 1917/3 part 2.
If eni ykonoklaast iz out ov werk, he myt due wers dhan taek hiz hamer and smyt a blœ at dhe pedestal on which Boswell'z ydol standz. Samuel Johnson'z Diksionari set up an authoritaetiv speling. Nydher dhe tym nor dhe man woz fit for dhe taask. No peeriod sins dhe dark aejez haz been so defisient in imajinaesion and kreaetiv fakulti; Fonetiks and Komparativ Filoloji wer dhen unnœn syensez. Johnson himself, dho faerli akwaented widh Latin, had no nolej werth mension ov orijinal English or eni kindred langwij. Hiz intelekt woz at wuns pedantik and unsyentifik. He klaemd authoriti for hiz speling, yet konstrukted it on no definit prinsipel. Indeed, he profest a preferens for dhe formz ferther remuevd from ordinari pronunsiaesion, az "honour" raadher dhan"honor." Hiz ponderus repeutaesion karid konviksion amung hiz unenlytend kontemporariz, and dhe rezult woz not an orderd Kosmos, but Kaos petrifyd. Dhe Diksionari woz a moneument werdhi ov its aej, a great werk in its dae; dhe blaem for our prezent kondision in speling rests raadher widh laeter jeneraesionz, which in syentifik tymz hav neglekted tu aply reezon in dhis partikeular department. Johnson'z speling aut tu be az obsoleet az George II'z peruek.

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[On other pages, comments about Dr Johnson in
Spelling Progress Bulletins, 1983-1975, 1972-1961.