Celebrating National Dictionary Day

Oct 17, 2022 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

Do you have a dictionary on your shelf? If so, the odds are solid that it has the name Webster’s emblazoned on its cover. October 16 is National Dictionary Day, a day set aside to remember and celebrate Noah Webster and his contributions to lexicography, which is the practice of compiling dictionaries.

Noah Webster (1758‒1843), one of the many historical figures associated with the birth of the United States, is commonly known for his dictionary, so much so that he is often referred to as the Father of the American Dictionary. In addition to his contributions to lexicography, he is also remembered as having a devout Christian faith and a firm belief in copyright laws and in the absolute separation of the United States of America from England. He even assumed the self-appointed task of transcribing the 1611 King James Bible to make it more understandable to the common reader.

His conviction that the United States sever its previous connections with Britain impelled him to begin curating a dictionary containing words that simplified spelling and distanced his fledgling nation from the French influence that had infused British words. Webster firmly believed that there should be a simplicity to spelling based upon Americans’ spoken language. Therefore, he altered words ending in -ce to -se. Examples include defense and offense. He removed the doubled L in traveler and traveled. He reversed the -re to reshape the word to have an -er ending, such as the word center. Furthermore, he stripped away the French spelling influence in words such as colour, which he changed to color. Notably, he intentionally inserted native American words, such as skunk and hickory.

Webster’s influence still reverberates today in the Americanized spelling of words. His spelling book, The Blue Back Speller, for instance, has never been out of print, and the name Webster’s still appears in the titles of many dictionaries. In short, Noah Webster was a man of his times who is still making ripples today.

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