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According to Simon Winchester, who quoted Johnson's definition of "network"
in his lecture given at the University of Toronto, and aired on TV Ontario
last Sunday, Johnson was likely deliberately being funny (or obtuse) and
perhaps also a forefather of a later fashionable tendency to use words that
didn't mean much. For more information, much of it fascinating and wholly
entertaining for those interested in the English language, you can find
further information about the broadcast and book below.

For the definitions of social networks, and perhaps socnetters, we could
have some fun. How about some ideas? Incidentally the next version of the
OED is likely to be released in 2040 or thereabouts so we've got lots of
time to work on them.

http://www.tvo.org/bigideas/jan05.html
"Simon Winchester, the author of the best-selling novel, The Professor and
the Madman talks about his latest book, The Meaning of Everything: The Story
of the Oxford English Dictionary. Learn about the monumental challenges
faced by those who took on this great task, and listen to fascinating
accounts of why some words were included, but more importantly, why some
weren't.Read an interview with Simon Winchester and visit the Oxford English
Dictionary's "Daily Word" Web site."

Vivien Runnels
Ottawa, ON

-----Original Message-----
From: Social Networks Discussion Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On
Behalf Of Beckwith, Richard
Sent: Thursday, January 06, 2005 1:28 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Johnson's definition of network

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Alvin Wolfe wrote:

> The first published definition of "network" was, I believe, Samuel
> Johnson's, in his Dictionary of the English Language (1755):  "Any
> thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices
> between the intersections."
>
> In his own Dictionary of Quotations, 20th Century philologist Bergen
> Evans said of this definition:  "This remains one of the best
definitions
> of network we have.... Of all Johnson's definitions, this excited most

> ridicule.  But the obvious is not easy to define; of necessity, the
> simplest must be defined in terms less simple" (1968:483).

Just in case anyone cares, I'm going to guess that Johnson's is unlikely
to be the first definition of network.  It is true that few early
dictionaries included words that were considered to be simple and
obvious to the English speaking public (by lexicographers).  However, I
don't think it was never included before Johnson did his comprehensive
dictionary.  Years before Johnson, Nathanael Bailey attempted the first
comprehensive dictionary of the English language and that's where I'd
look.  I don't have access to the dictionary or I would check.

However, its apparent "plain-ness" was likely the reason that Johnson
defined it as he did.  Johnson is well-known for including many
definitions that are intentionally funny.  I believe that the "network"
definition is simply one of these.  (I used to keep on my office door
(before moving to a cube farm and eschewing office doors).)

Consider these definitions:

Cough: A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity.

Distiller: One who makes and sells pernicious and inflammatory spirits.

Lexicographer:  A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge, that busies
himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of
words.

(this last one infuriated Noah Webster so much that he made an ink
splotch
over the definition)

Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in
Scotland appears to support the people.

To worm: To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his
tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running
mad.

Or more to the point of this group:

Reticulated: Made of network; formed with interstitial vacuities.

(for more of same, see:  http://www.samueljohnson.com/definitions.html)

In short, I think that his "network" definition was meant to be funny.
I'm not sure the same can be said for the wikipedia.

Richard

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