John Jamieson (1759–1838)

Wh2673654013en Boswell began to compile his Scots dictionary, John Jamieson was still a young child in Glasgow. Bornin 1759 into a family of Seceders, Jamieson belonged to a very different social set to Boswell. In the late 1780s, while engaged as a Secession minister in Forfar, he began work on what would eventually become his Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. The Dictionary was published in 1808, by which time Jamieson and his family had moved to Edinburgh. In 1825, he published a two-volume Supplement, to which many of the Edinburgh literati – among them Sir Walter Scott – had contributed.

Boswell died in 1795, seven years before Jamieson circulated the Prospectus for his Dictionary, and there is no evidence that he knew about Jamieson’s work. The two men did, however, have a mutual friend. George Dempster, the MP and agricultural reformer, who had been a close friend of Boswell in his youth, became a mentor to the young Jamieson in the 1780s. Jamieson was a frequent visitor to Dempster’s house at Dunnichen in Angus, and Dempster encouraged Jamieson in his antiquarian and linguistic research, lending the cash-starved young minister books from his own extensive library.

Jamieson was also in contact with Boswell’s elder son, Alexander. Alexander Boswell is listed as one of the subscribers to Jamieson’s Dictionary of 1808. He also contributed a number of words to the Supplement of 1825, although he died before it was published. Among his contributions was the word, guilder-faugh , an Ayrshire term for land lying fallow.

Further reading:
R. Crawford, ‘John Jamieson, a man of many words‘ (Times Literary Supplement, 9 January 2013)
J. Evans, The Gentleman Usher: The Life and Times of George Dempster (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2005)
S. Rennie, Jamieson’s Dictionary of Scots: The Story of the First Historical Dictionary of the Scots Language (Oxford: OUP, 2012)
——, ‘Jamieson and the Nineteenth Century’, in Scotland in Definition: A History of Scottish Dictionaries
, ed. by I. Macleod and J.D. McClure (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2012)
——, ‘An Important National Task’: The Story of Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary 
(PhD thesis, University of Dundee, 2010)

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