Happy National Dictionary Day! Yes, October 16th, the birthday of Noah Webster, is also the day set aside to celebrate the publication many of us take for granted: Webster’s Dictionary. Webster’s goal was to gain consistency and provide an accurate representation of the English language as it was evolving in the United States. At the time, dictionaries referenced Great Britain and British English. The settlers were encountering things that were not found in England. For example, the skunk is indigenous to North and South America. If there was ever a need for a word, I think that would be it.
Webster was all for cutting the clutter. You may have read a British novel and wondered why we use the spelling “color” rather than “colour.” Well, you can thank Mr. Noah Webster. He was the one that suggested many changes to the English language in his endeavor to Americanize it. Ditching the “u” in many words, including “humour” and “colour,” was just one of the suggestions that became part of our written language.
Like the libraries, Webster’s dictionary has evolved. First being purchased from Webster’s estate by G. P. Merriam publishing company in the mid-1800s to being available with just a few keystrokes on our smartphones, Webster’s dictionary has changed. Today, as you are reading along on your tablet, a simple tap on a word is all that is required to find a definition. In fact, you will most likely be directed to Merriam-Webster’s modern take of Mr. Webster’s work.
I wonder what Mr. Webster would think of how we have adapted his creation? On average, about a thousand words are officially added each year. That is over 2 ½ new words a day! In addition, we have dictionaries for everything from the latest slang to those cute little emojis. It isn’t unusual for me to quickly “Google” something before I agree or disagree. I mean, who would have ever guessed being “sick” could be a good thing?
So as we move towards becoming more and more dependent on the electronic dictionary, I think it is important to remember the skill we learned from the dictionary: alphabetizing. Many of you probably remember poring over that thick book trying to get your vocabulary assignment completed. Personally, I felt the teacher was looking for new and improved methods of torture. As it turns out, alphabetizing is something I use every day. Not only is it the basis for arranging library books and files, but many other organizational systems. Even the electronic ones.
So the next time you right-click on that misspelled word rather than having to lug out that dusty old dictionary, say a thanks to Mr. Noah Webster. Because without him, our lives may be a lot less “colourful.”