16 October 2018

National Dictionary Day is observed annually on 16 October.

Celebrate by learning a little bit of dictionary history and about Noah Webster:

In 1806, American Noah Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language.

In 1807 Webster began compiling an expanded and fully comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language; it took twenty-seven years to complete. To evaluate the etymology of words, Webster learned twenty-six languages, including Old English (Anglo-Saxon), German, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic and Sanskrit.

Webster completed his dictionary during his year abroad in Paris, France, at the University of Cambridge.  His book contained seventy thousand words, of which twelve thousand had never appeared in a published dictionary before. 

As a spelling reformer, he believed that the English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex so in his dictionary he introduced American English spellings, replacing “colour” with “color”, substituting “wagon” for “waggon” and printing “center” instead of “centre”.  Webster also added American words such as “skunk” and “squash” that did not appear in British dictionaries.  He believed The United States “should be as independent in literature as she is in politics.”  Some of his changes didn’t catch on, however.  Dropping the silent “e” at the end of some words like the word imagine. 

Webster took a more phonetic approach to the development of his dictionary.  Interestingly, the word didn’t appear when Webster published his dictionary in 1828 at the age of seventy. However, of the 70,000 entries, the word phonics is one. The dictionary sold 2500 copies.

 In 1840, the second edition was published in two volumes. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary is available online.  By entering the modern-day spelling, the website will produce Webster’s 1828 version.  

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