SAMUEL Johnson once complained that making dictionaries was dull work. Yet since his own great opus appeared more than two centuries ago, the science of lexicography has proved anything but boring. In that time, not only have dictionaries educated and entertained, they have built up a fascinating record of social change.
Johnson would probably have been horrified at the ever-changing usage of his beloved English language. Yet with his ready wit he would surely have excelled in providing wry definitions for the soundbites of Blairite Britain.
What, one wonders, would he have made of focus group, on-message or spin doctor? Would he have been impressed by the ideas behind zero tolerance and social exclusion, phrases which make their debut in the new Collins English Dictionary and Roget's latest Thesaurus?
Changes in education are also reflected in the new Collins, with an entry for OFSTED, though not its sinister relation: Ofsteded. The Baker day, though, does not appear. What new words might the next edition bring? Here are two suggestions for lexicographers: a Blunkett - a sabbatical to prevent teachers from burn-out; a Byers - an unexpected windfall in their pay packets. Teachers themselves might prefer other definitions.