Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Old Sam

Did you know that 'meh' has now made it into Collins English Dictionary. Meaning unimpressed, mediocre, or boring it has beaten other words such as Jargonaut, frenemy and huggles for inclusion into a 30th anniversary edition of the book, due to be published next year.

Whilst experts of classical antiquities fight amongst themselves about the first recorded ancient dictionary, it is Dr Johnson's Dictionary, produced in 1755, that most people think of as the first official one. Dr Johnson (1709 - 1784) lived in Grub Street, yes- the name that symbolises the hack writer was actually a proper street at one time (experts reckon the name 'grub' comes from 'grube, meaning a ditch or drain - Grub Street was just by a major drainage ditch - yuk).

He attended Oxford University for a year but was too poor to continue his studies and, in a state of depression, returned home. He pulled himself together though and when he was 25 fell in love with and married 46 year old Elizabeth (he called her Tetty) Porter. One good thing in a life filled with a lot of debt and depression is that in 1755 he received an honorary degree (an MA) from Oxford University.

Now Sam came up with some quotes that are legendary and here are just a few:

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel

When a man is tired of London he is tired of life

on second marriages) The triumph of hope over experience

Imagine if you had been at a dinner party and Sam Johnson had been one of the guests - you'd never have got a word in. Meh.


Blu said...

Crikey I have never even heard of meh before...Hilarious. But thank you for adding a word to the ever increasing list.

Dumdad said...

Actually you would get many words in as he's been dead for some time...meh

Frankofile said...

I wish Johnson had kept a blog. It would have been a gripping read. (He didn't keep a diary, did he? Guess he was too busy earning)

French Fancy said...

blu - I can tell then that you don't post on the Guardian talkboard forum. That's the first place I saw it and now you just can't avoid it.

dumdad - see, it's not just the French language that I make errors in. I've corrected the tense now (blush)

frankofile - no diary but Boswell seems to have covered pretty much every move that old Sam made. He was very young when he first met Sam so it's clear that he must have been very impressed by him.

I just think of that Blackadder episode with Dr Johnson missing out vital non-existent words.

justme said...

Oooops! I use 'meh' a lot. Because it sounds how I feel a lot of the tme.
Fascinating post though. Not meh at all!

Henry the Dog said...

I'd never heard of 'meh' either. But my excuse is that I'm a dog:) I love learning new stuff. I'm definitely going to use it in my blog when I get the chance.

One of mum's favourite quotes by this Mr Johnson chappie is

"That we must all die, we always knew; I wish I had remembered it sooner" or something like that.

East Anglian Troy said...

I thought that Dr Johnson did start a blog but then they brought in a "Windows tax" and I think that is when a lot of people must have ditched their computers. Mind you, history was never my strongest subject!

Anonymous said...

'meh'be 'meh'be not.........one of my favourite SJ quotations:

'No people can be great who have ceased to be virtuous.'
—Samuel Johnson, on the behavior of the British colonists in America...........could apply to so many more nations today.

And,because I love oats....Definition of "oats": "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people."
Johnson: A Dictionary Of The English Language

nikkicrumpet said...

There's no "meh" here...And I loved the quote about second marriage...it's true lol

Jessica said...

I love the word "meh" but in the dictionary...I'm not sure about that. lol

French Fancy said...

justme - you could call yourself 'justmeh' - but I hope not for much longer

henry - I don't know if Dr Johnson had a dog. He sounded a bit sad and lonely a lot of the time so my guess is that during his sad times he didn't.

Troy - I bet you could write a good kid's history book - they'd laugh a lot anyway

anon - hehehe - good quote that first one. So many of his quotes that I read today hold true at this moment in time

nikki - I'm glad there's no meh in your household. Your blog is meh-proof :)

jessica - I know exactly what you mean. Urban dictionary is one thing, allowed on a Scrabble board is another

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Gosh! Telepathy or what...I was just reading about Dr. Johnson and his dictionary in "Balderdash and Piffle". He was paid a huge sum to write the dictionary £1575 (about 16 times his annual salary). I love this story:

Around the time that Johnson embarked on his labours, he had an exchange with the Revd Dr William Adams, the former master of his old college. 'This is great work, Sir,' said Adams. 'But how can you do this in three years?' Johnson replied that he was confident that he could. 'But,' said Adams, pressing him, 'the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their dictionary.'
Johnson's reply is a classic of its kind, and one that should not be repeated South of Dover. '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'.
(Or as a Frenchman might say.. "meh" or possibly "merde!")

Lulu LaBonne said...

I'm used to the guys dominating the conversation at dinner - at least if Sam was there it would have been entertaining.

Ladybird World Mother said...

Another quote... 'No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.'
Oops. Bet he didn't blog.

david mcmahon said...

I enjoy studying words - I came here from Cheshire Wife's blog.

Mama said...

and..............as if by magic, here I am back in the US of A, I had a meh flight back, off to get some shut-eye, catch up with you later, I am NOT tired of London though, smiles. Kathy

Carol and Chris said...

Hehehehe....all i could think about was the Blackadder episode too!!

LOL at Anon's comment about Oats...must share that with Hubby as he is a fan!! (I'm a bit of a crap Scot...don't do oats or haggis...although I do like my whisky so maybe that makes up for it?)

C x

French Fancy said...

hadriana - What a great quote and how good that they have gone down in posterity. Imagine saying wonderful things and nobody noting them. In 200 years time all our blogs (well, maybe a few) will be studied in history classes as how life was in our time - poor things, they'll think we were clever too.

lulu - he sounds quite a retiring man - apart from his bon mots of course. Apparently he was very conscious of his lack of charm and good looks and I suppose that helped his wit develop.

ladybird - see, every one a gem. The man was a genius.

david - As a published author you probably know far more about words than me. :)

mama Kathy - I was wondering if you were back yet. We must stay in touch.

carol - I didn't realise you were Scottish, not that I love you any less.(she said quickly). I love oats but not as porridge - I mix them with yoghurt, honey and banana for my favourite ever breakfast. Jo Rowling likes the same thing - when I stayed at Hazlitts once (a hotel - or it should actually be an hotel - in Soho) I saw in the guest book that the breakfast there was her favourite - and it was the oaty goodness one. So of course I tried it and now it is my declared favourite.

Lucy Fishwife said...

I love "meh" and have also used "feh" a lot (similar in usage but with slightly more contemptuous dismissiveness)

French Fancy said...

lucy - I didn't know 'feh' - I'll be using it now though.thanks for that.