|Doctor Johnson in the Ante-Room of the Lord Chesterfield Waiting for an Audience, 1748|
by Edward Matthew Ward, 1845
In researching the changes in word usage, I came across the dictionary authored by
|Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary of the English Language|
A DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE:IN WHICH The WORDS are deduced from their ORIGINALS,
AND ILLUSTRATED in their DIFFERENT SIGNIFICATIONS
BY EXAMPLES from the best WRITERS.
TO WHICH ARE PREFIXED, A HISTORY of the LANGUAGE,
AND An ENGLISH GRAMMAR,
By SAMUEL JOHNSON, A. M. In TWO VOLUMES.
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can peruse Mr. Johnson's work at:
(You can see photos of the actual original pages by clicking "Page View.")
Here is a list of examples, one for each letter of the alphabet, to give you some idea of the misunderstandings a time traveler might encounter:
AWFUL—Not rotten but awe-inspiring, as in “awful majesty.”
BAGGAGE—An insulting term for a woman, like “hussy.”
CLOWN—A rustic or bumpkin, not a circus performer.
DESERT—Any deserted or uninhabited place—a wilderness, not necessarily a place filled with sand. 18th century author Daniel Defoe placed his Robinson Crusoe on a desert island filled with lush vegetation.
ENTHUSIASM—Fanaticism, especially in religious matters. Not a positive attribute.
FOND—Foolish, naive, innocent.
GENEVA—Gin. The word and its shortened form come not from the Swiss city, but from genever, Dutch for juniper, the plant which provided the flavor for the original Dutch variety.
INTERVIEW—Any sort of meeting. Not just to see about getting hired for a job.
JADE—Could refer to the green stone we think of today but also as an abusive term applied to women; something like slut.
KID—Young goat. To kid meant to bring forth young goats. (Nothing at all to do with teasing!)
LEECH—Johnson’s first meaning is: physician (and not derogatory at all) and second meaning is: the critter that sucks blood. The norm for medical treatment was bleeding the patient.
MAKE LOVE—Johnson lists 59 entries under "to make___" and this is number 39: To court, to woo (with no sexual connotation.)
NICKNAME—A name given in contempt with great derision.
OUCH—An ornament of gold or jewels, unless referring to the ouch of a boar in which it means a blow from a boar’s tusk, (Ouch!)
PECULIAR—Particular (not odd or unusual.)
SNACK—A share of something often by a compact or agreement.
TOILET—A dressing table (no indoor plumbing, remember?)
UPHOLSTERER—One who furnishes houses (not limited to one who makes or repairs upholstered furniture.)
VINE—The plant that bears the grape (apparently all vines were assumed to be those that produced vino.)
WOMANIZE—To make a man more like a woman, effeminate, emasculate (something done TO a man not BY a man.)
X—“No words in English language begin with this letter” according to Samuel Johnson.
ZONE—Girdle (which meant anything that surrounded one’s middle not just the suck-you-in undergarment of your grandmother’s day. )
|Sophia Drake, by Ralph Earl, 1784|
As you can see, a young time traveler could get herself into a lot of hot water if she misspoke or misunderstood. Let's hope she doesn't go for an interview as a hothouse worker!
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