Today is World Dictionary Day, marking the birthday of Noah Webster. He published his first dictionary in 1806, but it was his two-volume American Dictionary of the English Language published in 1828 that earned his place in history. He was 70 years old at the time.
So that we can fully appreciate Webster’s work, here are a few statistics: His American Dictionary took 28 years to complete. In preparation he learned 26 languages, including Old English, Ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. As a dictionary of American English, Webster radically chose to include new vocabulary of emerging Americanisms like squash, skunk, hickory, chowder and applesauce. He pushed through his ideas of English spelling reform. Some of them took and some of them didn’t; dawter, wimmen, tung.
Despite his efforts, Webster’s dictionary sold just 2,500 copies. He was forced to mortgage his home (in New Haven) to fund a second edition in 1840. His life, from then on was plagued with debt.
The forlorn poet, Emily Dickinson, commented that the “Lexicon” was her “only companion” for years. One biographer said “The dictionary was no mere reference book to her; she read it as a priest his breviary – over and over, page by page, with utter absorption.” I hear you, Emily.
Noah Webster died at the age of 84, never having gained the recognition his work deserved.
Let us honor Webster on this day. There are estimated to be over one million words in the English dictionary. Try to utilize a new one or two of them. Do not fall into illaqueation and allow babblement to maffle your words. Step into new vocabulary, even if that step must be made tardigradously.
Happy Birthday, Noah W.