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17 Hilarious Definitions from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

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It took roughly eight years for Samuel Johnson and his staff of six helpers to complete the Dictionary of the English Language, which was published 263 years ago this month, on April 15, 1755. The work soon established itself as one of the most important dictionaries in the history of the English language, and remained a landmark reference source right through to the early 1900s.

Johnson—a celebrated humourist and anecdotist who also wrote countless works of journalism and criticism, biographies, essays, poems, and even a novel and a stage play—brought a huge amount of that wit and linguistic creativity to his dictionary, which defined over 42,000 words, using 114,000 literary quotations to illustrate them. Famously, for instance, he defined oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”—but that famous definition is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the slights, barbs and quips Johnson included in his dictionary.

1. BACKFRIEND

The Oxford English Dictionary calls a backfriend “a pretended or false friend,” but Johnson was more straightforward and defined the word as “a friend backwards”—or in other words, “an enemy in secret.”

2. EXCISE

No one likes paying tax—and Johnson knew it. Excise was defined as “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.”

3. FINESSE

Johnson didn’t much care for French loanwords, and omitted a great deal of francophone words—including such familiar examples as champagne and bourgeois—from his dictionary. Many of those that he did include, meanwhile, had some serious shade thrown at them: Finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language”; monsieur was described as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman”; and ruse was labeled “a French word neither elegant nor necessary.”

4. GYNOCRACY

A gynocracy is a governing body of women, or women seen as a ruling class. In Johnson’s pithier words, however, a “gynecocrasay” was defined as a “petticoat government.”

5. LEXICOGRAPHER

Johnson seemingly didn’t think much of his own job: On page 1195, he called a lexicographer “a harmless drudge” who “busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.”

6. LUNCH

Lunch wasn’t so much a time as a quantity in Johnson’s eyes: He defined it as “as much food as one’s hand can hold.”

7. NIDOROSITY

If you ever needed a word for an “eructation with the taste of undigested meat”—in other words, a really meaty burp—then here you are.

8. PATRON

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary and paid a staggering 1500 guineas (around $300,000 today) for his troubles. Even still, he couldn’t let the opportunity to have a dig at the London publishers who acted as his financial backers go by: He famously defined a patron as “a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.”

9. PENSION

A pension is “an allowance,” Johnson explained, adding that “in England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.”

10. POLITICIAN

As well as “one versed in the arts of government,” Johnson defined a politician as “a man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.”

11. SCELERATE

This 16th century word for a villain or reprobate won’t be among the most familiar of entries in Johnson’s dictionary, but it does give us a prime example of both his disdain for French loanwords and for the authors who adopted them. On page 1758 he explains that the word was “introduced unnecessarily from the French by a Scottish author”—and then goes on to illustrate its use with a quotation from Scottish physician and scholar George Cheyne.

12., 13., AND 14. SOCK, BUM, AND LIZARD

When you’re tasked with defining 40,000 words, it’s perhaps to be expected that some entries are going to be more half-hearted than others—and sock, which Johnson defined as “something put between the shoe and foot,” probably falls into that group. He also defined the word bum as “the part on which we sit,” and a lizard as “an animal resembling a serpent, with legs added to it.”

15. STOAT

Pity the poor stoat, which Johnson defined as “a small, stinking animal.”

16. TROLMYDAMES

Johnson was nothing if not honest: All he had to say when it came to this word, which Shakespeare used in The Winter’s Tale, was “of this word I know not the meaning.” Noah Webster had a better idea when it came to compiling his American Dictionary 60 years later, however, and explained that the word is another name for “the game of nineholes,” a bowling game in which players have to roll balls into holes of different point values.

17. URINATOR

Browse the dictionary and this one might raise a few eyebrows: Johnson defined a urinator as “a diver” or “one who searches underwater.” We might not agree today, but he wasn’t wrong: In this context, urinator derives from urinari, a Latin word meaning “to dive.”

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'Puggle,' 'Emoji,' and 298 Other New Words Added to Scrabble Dictionary
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Scrabble aficionados and wordsmiths around the world will soon have some new reading material to bone up on. In celebration of National Scrabble Day today, the makers of the classic word game announced that 300 new words will be added to Scrabble’s official dictionary.

The new words will be published in the sixth edition of Merriam-Webster’s The Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary, which will be released this fall, according to Mashable.

Here are just a few of the new additions:

Emoji (noun): A small computer symbol used to express emotion
Ew (interjection): Used to express disgust
Facepalm (verb): To cover the face with the hand
Macaron (noun): A cookie with filling in the middle
Puggle (noun): A kind of dog
Sriracha (noun): A spicy pepper sauce

Some players of the 70-year-old game may be surprised to learn that “ew” isn’t already a word, especially considering that Scrabble recognizes more than 100 two-letter words, including “hm” (another expression), “ai” (a three-toed sloth), and “za” (slang for pizza). If played strategically and placed on a triple word square, “ew” can land you 15 points—not bad for two measly letters.

New Scrabble words must meet a few criteria before they’re added to the official dictionary. They must be two to eight letters long and already in a standard dictionary. Abbreviations, capitalized words, and words with hyphens or apostrophes are immediately ruled out.

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam-Webster, told Entertainment Weekly, “For a living language, the only constant is change. New dictionary entries reflect our language and our culture, including rich sources of new words such as communication technology and food terms from foreign languages.”

The last edition of the Scrabble dictionary came out in 2014 and included 5000 new words, such as "selfie," "hashtag," "geocache," and "quinzhee."

[h/t Mashable]

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25 Double-Letter Scrabble Words to Have in Your Back Pocket
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The best Scrabble players are the strategic ones who keep adding words to their player vocabulary. Once you've mastered a number of two-letter words and the high-scoring ones (that are admittedly very difficult to play), start looking to double-letter words to take advantage of the multiples on your tile rack.

1. AGLOO

seal on snow
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Don't have an I for IGLOO? Use an A for AGLOO, meaning an air hole through the ice made by a seal.

2. ALLEE

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Instead of an ALLEY, use this double-double-lettered word meaning a tree-lined walkway.

3. BETTA

betta fish
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Rather than BETA, use that extra T to mean the freshwater fish.

4. BRATTICE

Coal mine
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A BRATTICE now means a heavy curtain or barrier in a mine to help direct air flow, though the medieval meaning was simply a temporary partition along a wall.

5. DRESSAGE

Dressage
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The fanciest of all horse training and equestrian events, DRESSAGE is the obedience and discipline riding competition, rather than the racing.

6. FUGGY

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To FUG is to make something stuffy or odorous, but its adjective form (FUGGY) and past and present participles (FUGGED, FUGGING) will take care of any extra Gs on the board.

7. GHYLL

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Not only will GHYLL, which is a deep ravine, utilize a double-letter, but it will help if your tile bar is sorely lacking in vowels.

8. GRAAL

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GRAAL is an older form of the word GRAIL, but it's also a technique used in glassblowing.

9. HEELER

Shoemaker holding high heels
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Don't have an A for HEALER? A HEELER is a person who puts heels on shoes (as well as an Australian cattle dog).

10. HELLUVA

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If you're having a HELLUVA time getting rid of a few letters, this nonstandard combination word is actually Scrabble-approved.

11. INNAGE

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INNAGE is the quantity of goods remaining in a container when received after shipment.

12. LARRUP

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To decisively defeat someone or trounce them is to LARRUP.

13. MAMMEE

tropical island
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Another double-double-letter word, a MAMMEE is species of tropical tree with large red fruit.

14. MOGGY

cats
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A MOGGY or MOGGIES (plural) is the cat equivalent of a mutt.

15. OLLA

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A quick word to tack onto some common board letters, an OLLA is a wide-mouthed pot or jar.

16. OUTTELL

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OUTTELL, OUTTELLS, and OUTTELLING all refer to speaking out or declaring something openly.

17. PERRON

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A PERRON can refer to both large outdoor stairways or the stone platforms of certain columns and edifices.

18. PIGGERY

pig in pig pen
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You're surely prepared with PIGGY, PIGGIE, and PIGGISH, but a PIGGERY is a pigpen.

19. QUASSIA

Quassia amara
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Score extra points with a well-place Q. A QUASSIA is another tropical tree whose bitter bark is sometimes used as a digestive aid or an insecticide.

20. SCABBLE

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No, not Scrabble. SCABBLE means to shape roughly.

21. TIPPET

tippet
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A TIPPET is a covering for the shoulders, or a ceremonial scarf worn by clergy.

22. TYPP

balls of yarn
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A TYPP (or TYPPS, plural) is a unit of yarn size. It's an acronym for thousand yards per pound.

23. VALLUM

Vallum at Hadrian's Wall
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The VALLUM was part of the defensive wall of earth and stone surrounding Roman camps.

24. WEEPIE

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While WEEPY is an adjective for tending to weep, a WEEPIE is a very maudlin movie.

25. WELLY

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According to the official Scrabble dictionary, WELLY is an acceptable form of WELLIE, the British rainboots.

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