A day to honor Noah Webster’s birthday on October 16, 1758. You probably recognize the name.
Webster is the “Father of American Scholarship and Education,” and author of the Blue-Backed Speller which taught generations of American school children to read and spell.
Because he disliked the complexity of English spelling rules, he streamlined our American way of spelling certain words like “color” instead of the English spelling of “colour.” His first dictionary was published in 1806.
A year later he began work on a more comprehensive dictionary, which took him twenty-seven years to finish. He learned twenty-six languages to evaluate the etymology of the seventy thousand words included in the work.
As a child, I spent hours poring through the pages of my grandmother’s eight-inch thick copy of Webster’s New International Dictionary (of the English Language).
The fifteen-pound book had leather alphabet tabs cut into the pages. The illustrations were detailed and the maps gorgeous. There were diagrams, charts, and thousands of words. It was a fertile resource for a blossoming logophile or wordsmith as I prefer to call myself.
Wonderful magical stuff can happen when you use a print dictionary. You discover word origins and its root which can give a deeper understanding of meaning. You also find synonyms and antonyms that provide possibilities for rewriting or a totally new idea.
Sure, you can get all that in a nanosecond online. But do you scroll down to discover all that? Probably not. Even if you do, you miss all those other words your finger glides over as it scrolls down the printed page. Words that you might never have seen.
As an author, I keep a print copy of Webster’s Dictionary closeby, and I use it often along with the online versions.
Authors and anyone who publishes also have another reason to appreciate Noah Webster. He played a role in forming the Copyright Act of 1831, which extended copyrights from fourteen to twenty-eight years with an option of renewal for another fourteen years. That changed with even greater protections under The Copyright Act of 1976, but Noah Webster started the copyright ball rolling.
Thank you, Mr. Webster, for your hard work. You do deserve a national day of recognition.
As a collector *cough, cough*, okay, hoarder of books, all sizes, shapes, and genres, I admit the still favorite is my well-used dictionary. It’s enormous, tattered, foxed, and indispensable. I would have liked your grandmother.