American Dictionary Day — Look up a word, we dare you!


Tuesday is National Dictionary Day, when America honors the birthday of Noah Webster [1758-1843, above], the raging egotist and word lover who thought Americans should have their own dictionary. Before Webster, all English-language dictionaries came from England. Notably, the great dictionary of that ages was by Englishman Samuel Johnson {below}, published in 1755. There’s currently a project to bring Sam’s dictionary online.


The last 40 words transcribed for Sam’s version? Last 40 Words Transcribed:

Delfe · Delf · Turnip · Pimping · Pimple · Pilosity · Pigsney ·Piccage · Perturbatour · Jocose · Invader · Kidder · Kid (verb) ·Kid (noun) · Kidneybean · Kidney · Dalliance · Dallier · Dallop ·Dally (verb active) · Dally (verb neuter) · Dale · Daisy ·Dairymaid · Maiden (adjective) · Maid (2) · Maiden (noun) ·Maid (1) · Dairy · Gory · Gore (verb) · Gore (noun) · Gorse ·Gormandizer · Gormandize · Gormand · Gorgon · Hexagon ·Hexapod · Heteroscians


Top that Noah! (aka Merriam-Webster these days)


Lexicographers are people who write dictionaries. Noah Webster became a famous lexicog because he published the first American English dictionary. He said of Sam Johnson’s dictionary “the errors in [it] are 10 times as numerous as they [the American public] suppose and . . . the confidence now reposed in its accuracy is the greatest injury to philology that now exists.”

Phew! Snap! Take that Sam!




Webster’s first American dictionary had 70,000 words with approximately 12,000 of those words never appearing in any dictionary before.  [We’re guessing those would be American words!]

The idea behind Webster’s dictionary, was American people deciding what English words exist and what those words mean. Remember use of the word “nice” in Geo Washington’s time was the sort of black insult that could get you killed.

Deciding what words go in the dictionary is a big job. A 2010 study by Harvard and Google researchers found that today there are more than 1 million English words, with 8,500 new ones added to the dictionary each year.


But back to Noah and Sam . . . in 1828 when the new American Dictionary of the English Language came out, Scotland’s  Quarterly Review said “There is everywhere a great parade of erudition and a great lack of real knowledge. . . We do not recollect ever to have witnessed  . . . a greater number of crudities and errors, or more pains taken to so little purpose.”



At FAB we have copies of both Johnson’s and Webster’s, though we keep the on different shelves lest quarrels break out. No matter who you prefer, hug a dictionary today!  (Or a lexicog!)



Published in: on October 16, 2012 at 5:17 PM  Leave a Comment  
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