Today in 1755 Samuel Johnson’s “A Dictionary of the English Language” was published in London. It was a mammoth undertaking, requiring almost a decade of work and it remained the definitive authority until the Oxford Dictionary was completed nearly two centuries later. It had been deliberately commissioned as pre-existing dictionaries were relatively poor and incomplete. Johnson’s dictionary is a little different from the relatively dry descriptions and meticulously researched etymologies that we are used to today, for example:
Cough: A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity. It is pronounced coff
Excise: a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid
As it was, Johnson’s dictionary was so large and expensive that it cost more to print than Johnson’s entire remuneration on the project and sold at around 200 copies per year for the next three decades. Although it was hardly without flaw or error, it was hugely influential for more than a century.