In his celebrated Dictionary, Dr Johnson famously provided some definitions in which he both exercised his wit and reflected his personal experience. Thus a lexicographer is ‘a harmless drudge’, a patron ‘commonly a wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery’, and a pension ‘is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country’.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, whose lexicographical collaboration is sadly little known, regrettably overshadowed perhaps by their other activities, were never able quite to agree on the legitimacy of such indulgence. They finally resolved their disagreement by dividing their work, with Dr Jekyll providing the neutrally accurate definition and Mr Hyde adding to the entries in a way which displayed his more acerbic, or contrary, character, often as much in the choice of particular usages defined as in the definitions themselves.
I quote here some examples of their joint work, which I believe have a particular relevance to our own times.
Most recently updated 12 June 2013
|Harmless drudges: lexicographers at work|
1: widely, scattered, all around us
2: in another country, overseas, not here
1: to judge subjectively that one is able to pay for something.
2: to offer or grant something inherently, as in ‘The forest afforded us food and shelter from the elements.’
In traditional use (naut.): the operation of removing water from a vessel to ensure that its passengers remain afloat.
In modern use (fin.): the operation of loading a nation with debt to ensure that its citizens sink.
1: constrained, unable to move.
3: held to a certain course of action.
3: headed towards.
4: a leap.
1: a favour specially vouchsafed by god; a free gift of god's grace; a grace; a talent.
2: a quality of charm and attractiveness emanating from a person who usually wishes to extract benefit from others, sometimes pecuniary or political.
In general usage (archaic, literary): to adhere to
In general usage (esp. woodworking): to split apart
1: a benefit awarded in recognition of a loss suffered
2: exhorbitant pay given to senior personel of a company regardless of declining share value or failure
1: the action of viewing attentively or meditatively; an opinion obtained by reflection
2: something given in payment; an inducement to a contract
1: one who ventures into unkown and previously unvisited or little visited territory for the purpose of extending knowledge
2 (in modern marketing): a device or product to enable the unsophisticated to use aspects of technology without having to extend their knowledge, as in Internet Explorer, the HTC Explorer 'smart phone'
1: to construct a physical object
2: to invent a false or non-existent account, argument or story
1: the ability to excell at a skill or accomplishment
2: a physical structure or piece of equipment for the performance of a mundane human function
1: bestowing honour
1: an image, figure or representation; a portrait; a representation of a sacred personage, itself regarded as sacred
2: something taken as representative of a modish quality
3: a small symbol on a computer screen, often indecipherable and sometimes the object of veneration
1: of or pertaining to an icon
2: a vacuous characterisation of something recognised as, or more usually aspiring to be, recognised as evocative of a cultural fashion; a description normally applied to something through which someone is desirous of making a substantial profit from the gullible and tasteless
My researches into the Jekyll and Hyde manuscript papers pertaining to their collaboration on the Dictionary have uncovered that one of the sharpest disagreements between them (their relationship was not always harmonious) was prompted by their definition of iconic. When Dr Jekyll asked whether Mr Hyde wished to add anything to his own innocuous definition, ‘Of or pertaining to an icon’, the latter replied that, since an icon was defined as a portrait or representation of a sacred personage, an educated man had no more use for the word ‘iconic’ than for ‘portraitic’ and that it had no proper place in a respectable lexicon. When Jekyll, clearly a little exasperated by such truculence, ventured to observe that on such a principle most of Hyde’s definitions were redundant, and that they had resolved to be prescriptive more in the framing of their definitions than in their range of words included, the latter relented and provided the second definition of iconic quoted here.
In ordinary usage: the operational quality of the intellect
In official or corporate usage: unverified information supplied for questionable motives and usually false at least in part
In current usage: produced by machine or organised industry rather than by an individual; contrived, false
Literally: made by hand
(See globalisation, society.)
In normal usage: the avoidance of extremes in behaviour or expression
In internet usage: the process of suppressing the expression of outspoken or dissenting opinion (also moderate, verb: as in ‘I have been moderated off x blog.’)
Conventional: a question for which one does not need any great thought to arrive at the right answer
Alt.: a question concerning which most people subscribe to the conventional answer without exercising their brains
1. objectively observed phenomena
2. a personal and partial account, as in 'The reality is...'
1: subject to rational justification
2: in accordance with common prejudice, as in 'Do be reasonable.'
3: an uneasy combination of both meanings 1 and 2, as in 'Beyond reasonable doubt'
Lit.: participation in the ultimate expression of life
Mod.: the meaningless filling of idle time, often in a commercial context
to remake something in a significantly altered condition; to change an institution or behaviour in order to correct a recognised deficiency; to bring an anomalous institution into accordance with current conditions, usually in the sense of righting social injustice, as in the Great Reform Act
Current: to recast a social institution for the disguised advantage of sectional interests.
Properly: strong and hardy in body or constitution; strongly and stoutly built; of a full and healthy habit
Current: the claimed quality of a set of arguments or statistics or of an administrative system, on which persons in authority rely for support of their policies, that purportedly anables them to disregard critical analysis; almost valid (as in 'Our risk control system is robust.')
1. an account of the progress of usually a sporting event for the benefit of those unable to see it or understanding completely
2. further information or explanation on a topic of public interest that a politician regrets having broached, as in 'We are not going to give a running commentary on...'
1. to express authoritative permission or recognition of an action or opinion (as in 'In future such behaviour will be sanctioned.')
2. to apply a penalty for an unauthorised action or opinion (as in 'In future such behaviour will be sanctioned.')
Lit: To render sacred or inviolable
Lit: the science of signification or exact meaning
Current: a dismissive term for the rejection of exact meaning, usually employed with qualifiers such as ‘pure’ or ‘mere’
1. a caressing touch
2. a wounding blow
3. a decisive or unexpected happening
4. a normally disabling medical event
1: to allow
2: to experience pain or distress
1: to cut away the superfluous
2: to add superfluities
3: to modify one's expressed beliefs or opinions in the hope of personal advancement
In Hindu society: someone formally shunned who undertakes a menial or repugnant occupation
In western society: someone who by virtue of their great economic or political power cannot be held to account
(See globalisation, international politics.)