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Samuel Johnson and the Journey into Words$
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Lynda Mugglestone

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199679904

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199679904.001.0001

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History and the flux of time

History and the flux of time

(p.167) 7 History and the flux of time
Samuel Johnson and the Journey into Words

Lynda Mugglestone

Oxford University Press

This chapter engages in detail with Johnson’s reading of time and language in the Dictionary, as well as embedding it within contemporary readings of time (and its desired control). If languages, for Johnson, are the real ‘pedigrees of nation’, it is time which can emerge as the true ‘tyrant’ in the forms of national history which emerge. Time easily deposes the lexicographer by forces which cannot be controlled. The chapter examines Johnson’s engagement with the history of English, alongside the conflicting demands of etymology, semantic shift, and language practice, as well as innovation, obsolescence, and lexical death. The interconnectedness of time and change emerges as a salient theme in Johnson’s approach to language, poised between images of decay and mutability on one hand, and the natural and ineluctable on the other.

Keywords:   time, language history, language change, language control, Lord Chesterfield, calendar reform, power and language, meaning, obsolescence, innovation

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