On this day in 1758, a man was born whose legacy has touched just about every person on the planet in some way (and no, we’re not talking Donnie … that’s just women … and I’m fairly sure he’s not that old).
That man was Noah Webster.
“During his years as a student and then as a schoolteacher, Webster realized the American education system needed to be updated. Children of all ages were crammed into one-room schoolhouses with no desks, poor books, and untrained teachers. …Webster believed that Americans should learn from American books, so in 1783, he wrote his own textbook: A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. … For over 100 years, Webster’s book taught children to read, spell and pronounce words. It was the most popular American book of its time, selling nearly 100 million copies. …
“In 1801, Webster started working on defining the words that Americans use. He did this because Americans spoke and used words differently than the English, and to help people who lived in different parts of the country to speak and spell the same way.
“In his dictionary, Webster used American spellings like “color” instead of the English “colour” and “music” instead of “musick”. He also added American words that weren’t in English dictionaries like “skunk” and “squash.” His first edition, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1806. This book offered brief definitions of about 37,000 words. It took him 22 more years to finish his American Dictionary of the English Language. When he finished in 1828, at the age of 70, Noah’s dictionary defined over 65,000 words.”
Brothers and booksellers George and Charles Merriam bought the unsold copies of the 1841 edition of the American Dictionary from Webster’s heirs when he died in 1843, and secured the rights to create revised editions. And thus, the world of word nerds was never the same again.
Oscar Wilde and Eugene O’Neill were also born on Oct. 16. I hear they were pretty good with words too.
In honor of Noah Webster’s impact on our world, Oct. 16 is celebrated as “Dictionary Day.” To celebrate, expand your vocabulary, preferably while eating some alphabet soup. An alphabet sandwich? Only if you’re famished. And nuts.