Late update: linguist commemorated on a coin

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I only just today happened to come into possession of one of the 50-pence coins issued in 2005 to commemorate a man we have to recognize as an early linguist: Dr Samuel Johnson, who published the first really successful monolingual dictionary of the English language, 250 years earlier, in 1755. I got the coin in change from the 7th-floor common room coffee vending machine in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences here in Edinburgh. I was amazed to look down and see a tail side with text where there is usually a picture, and a fragment of an etymology ("Saxon"), and a part of speech annotation ("n."), and a gloss ("plural of penny"), and the name of a lexicographer.

We linguists don't always feel we get adequate respect for our arcane craft, but at least one person working at the humble business of accurately describing the English language has been recognized on a nation's coins. They can't take that away from us. I don't know whether to hang onto the coin as a reminder, or to just send it back into circulation among the general public by putting it back in the machine when it's time for tomorrow's cup of long black. Look at the tails side if you handle British 50p coins, especially if the date on the heads side is 2005.

I wonder who the next linguist will be who appears on coins. A Danish 50 krone piece bearing the head of Otto Jespersen would be nice. (If the time lag is 250 years, of course, this is not going to be any direct concern of mine. The 250th anniversary of Jespersen's birth will be in the year 2110.)

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