The Proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman

In 1746, a group of London booksellers commissioned Samuel Johnson to write a dictionary of the English language. Johnson claimed, at the time, that it would take him only three years to compile the dictionary. In fact, he did not finish until 1755.

Dr. Adams found him one day busy at his Dictionary, when the following dialogue ensued.

ADAMS. This is a great work, Sir. How are you to get all the etymologies? JOHNSON. Why, Sir, here is a shelf with Junius, and Skinner, and others; and there is a Welch gentleman who has published a collection of Welch proverbs, who will help me with the Welch. ADAMS. But, Sir, how can you do this in three years? JOHNSON. Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years. ADAMS. But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary. JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.

Boswell: Life

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1 Comment

Filed under Commonplace Book

One response to “The Proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman

  1. From ancestry of English and French, this explains in part why I am an entity divided amongst myself.

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