How does Samuel Johnson use evidence from texts to support his ideas in his A Dictionary of the English Language entries?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Considering that Samuel Johnson collected the words for his dictionary from the prominent writers of his time (and times past), Johnson chose to give them credit in a very interesting (although uniform) way.  In his Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language, Johnson says, "Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase."  Knowing that he wanted to duly credit these wonderful writers for adding to his dictionary, Johnson creates his own method of documentation.  Generally, in A Dictionary of the English Language, after the word and definition are given, a short quote (although never within in quotation marks) appears on the following line with the italicized word.  Following the quote is the last name of the writer followed by a period.  Here is an example:

pi'ckle. Condition; state. A word of contempt and ridicule.

How cam'st though in this pickle? Shakespeare.

The only time Johnson strays from this form is when he feels it pertinent to include the name of the work it is from, such as "Swift's Miscellanies" found at the end of the definition of "plumper."  With all of these methods in mind, Samuel Johnson has truly created a one-of-a-kind dictionary.