Monday, April 14, 2014

Today in History: Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language is printed in 1818

Noah Webster, a Yale-educated lawyer with an avid interest in language and education, publishes his American Dictionary of the English Language.

Webster's dictionary was one of the first lexicons to include distinctly American words. The dictionary, which took him more than two decades to complete, introduced more than 10,000 "Americanisms."

One facet of Webster's importance was his willingness to innovate when he thought innovation meant improvement. He was the first to document distinctively American vocabulary such as skunk, hickory, and chowder. Reasoning that many spelling conventions were artificial and needlessly confusing, he urged altering many words: musick to music, centre to center, and plough to plow, for example. (Other attempts at reform met with less acceptance, however, such as his support for modifying tongue to tung and women to wimmen—the latter of which he argued was "the old and true spelling" and the one that most accurately indicated its pronunciation.)

The introduction of a standard American dictionary helped standardize English spelling, a process that had started as early as 1473, when printer William Caxton published the first book printed in English. The rapid proliferation of printing and the development of dictionaries resulted in increasingly standardized spellings by the mid-17th century. Coincidentally, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language was published almost exactly 63 years earlier, on April 15, 1755.

Taken from web sources.

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