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Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Johnson

“A word after a word after a word is power”*…

 

Sumerian cuneiform tablet

There is evidence dating back to Neolithic times in various parts of the world of people using pictograms—that is, drawing little pictures of objects to represent those objects. They might be scratched in stone, incised into pottery, or carved into bone or shell. Examples have been found in China (at Jiahu in Henan province), in southern Europe (at Vinča in Serbia), in the Indian subcontinent (at Harappa in Pakistan), in Egypt (at Girzeh), in Mesopotamia, and in Central America (near Veracruz in Mexico). The Chinese symbols, dating back to around 6600 BC, are currently believed to be the oldest discovered.

However, most scholars do not class these symbols as “writing.” They do not appear to be capable of communicating complex or abstract ideas. They are pictures, or at most signs—perhaps used for identification, claiming ownership, or as memory aids.

The general consensus in academic circles is that the earliest “true” writing system emerged in Sumeria (modern-day southern Iraq) around 3100 BC, and was fully developed with a substantial body of written texts and literature by around 2600 BC…

More at “Hieroglyphs aren’t words—so which civilization invented the idea of writing?

* Margaret Atwood

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As we ponder prose, we might recall that this is National Biographers Day– celebrated on this date each year to commemorate the anniversary of the first meeting, in 1763, of Dr. Samuel Johnson and his biographer, James Boswell.  Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson is widely claimed to be the greatest biography ever written. 

Boswell (center left) meets Johnson (center right, on chair)

source

 

Written by LW

May 16, 2016 at 1:02 am

Picture this…

 

Just one of the entries at WTF Visualizations: “visualizations that make no sense.”

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As we recall that not all pictures signify, we might send well-worded birthday greetings to Samuel Johnson; he was born on this date in 1709.  A poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer, Johnson’s best-known work was surely  A Dictionary of the English Language, which he published in 1755, after nine years work– and which served as the standard for 150 years (until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary).  But Dr. Johnson, as he was known, is probably best remembered as the subject of what Walter Jackson Bate noted is “the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature” : James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.  A famous aphorist, Johnson was the very opposite of a man he described to Boswell in 1784: “He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.”

Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Dr. Johnson

source

 

 

Written by LW

September 18, 2013 at 1:01 am

Staying current with the past…

click here to download a pdf of the article

The New York Times Sunday Magazine (or “The Magazine Section,” as it was originally known) has been in continuous publication since 1896.  David Friedman, a professional photographer and proprietor of the lovely blog Ironic Sans, has introduced a new service, Sunday Magazine, in which he promises to reach back every week exactly one hundred years to

…dole out a few of my favorite articles from each week on a new blog: SundayMagazine.org. I have a couple weeks’ worth of posts up, and the next two months’ worth already in the hopper. They range from historically interesting to downright bizarre. I hope that you’ll see it as a new source of reading material. Some of the articles are short, and some are as long as 4,000 words crammed on one broadsheet.

Read it and reap!

As we search (in vain) for the antique crossword puzzles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1755 that Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language was published in London.  [Readers will recall that Dr. J has made numerous appearances in (R)D, e.g., on his birthday, and in a nod to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s wonderful “word a day” service.]

Johnson’s dictionary wasn’t the first English dictionary; over the previous 150 years more than twenty dictionaries had been published in England, the oldest of these being a Latin-English “wordbook” by Sir Thomas Elyot published in 1538.  But in 1746 a group of London booksellers, dissatisfied with the dictionaries available, contracted Johnson to write one– a feat he promised to complete in three years.  It took him nine.  Still, he did so single-handedly, with clerical assistance only in copying out the illustrative quotations that he had marked in books.

It was, of course, an epoch-making accomplishment.  Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary, 173 years later, Johnson’s held sway as the preeminent English dictionary.  As Walter Jackson Bate observed, the Dictionary “easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who labored under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time.”

Title page (from the second edition) of the Dictionary


Don’t blink!…

source: PBS

The cost of attending a movie, insofar as filmgoers are concerned, is about $4 per hour, or just over a tenth of a cent per second… not including popcorn, of course.

But from the studio’s perspective the cost equation is materially more complicated:  budgets vary, as do run times; but at least the studios have some control over those.  Revenues vary widely too– and entirely at the whim of us, the moviegoers.

The good folks at Sharenator have done the arithmetic to let us cut through this complexity.  Bottom line, “blink for a moment and BAM! You’ve just missed thousands of dollars worth of material.”

source: Sharenator (click to see larger images)

As we debate refilling our extra-large cartons, we might send sultry birthday sentiments to Greta Garbo, who was born this date in 1905, and who insisted late in her life, “I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be left alone.’ There is a whole world of difference.”

Ms. Garbo

(And we might choose our words carefully, as this is also the birthday (1709) of lexicographer, wit– and trenchant observer– Dr. Samuel Johnson, who noted that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”)

Dr. Johnson (by Joshua Reynolds)

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Increase your vocabulary!…

If, as Dr. Johnson suggested, “Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language,”  Wordnik is a veritable Santa’s sack…  One can watch the language evolve before one’s very eyes:

As we mind our p’s and q’s, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 1993– a bad day for word games–that both of the broadcast series “Scattergories” and “Scrabble” aired for the last time on NBC, effectively marking the end of the brief vogue for adapting popular board games into television quiz shows (the trend before and after being in the other direction:  television to board)…

Scrabble’s TV logo

Your correspondent is turning to some family business for the next few days, a period during which these missives will likely be more roughly than daily.  Apologies.

Written by LW

June 11, 2009 at 12:01 am

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