Saturday, October 16, 2010

You Can Look It Up!

Today is Dictionary Day!!

Noah Webster said -

"Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground."

If you have a favorite “color” rather than a favorite “colour,” thank Noah Webster. The father of the American dictionary was born today in 1758, a day also celebrated as Dictionary Day.

Webster believed that just as America had established its independence from England, so should American English establish its independence from British English. A teacher by profession, he began his crusade in the classroom, where students were still studying from textbooks imported from England.

Webster published his own textbook, “A Grammatical Institute of the English Language,” in 1783. It was colloquially known as the “Blue-Backed Speller” because of the color of its cover. It soon became the best-selling American book of its time, providing adequate funding for Webster’s dictionary research.

In 1806, Webster published “A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language,” the first American English dictionary. He immediately began work on an expanded edition, titled “An American Dictionary of the English Language.”

In order to accurately research the origins of American English words, Webster learned 26 languages, including Sanskrit. He altered what he considered unecessarily complicated British spellings to make words look and sound more American.

The process took more than two decades. When “An American Dictionary of the English Language” was finally published in 1828, it contained 70,000 words and included words of American origin like “skunk” and “squash” that had never appeared in British dictionaries.

Webster’s work set new standards for lexicography, overshadowing his predecessor in the field, Englishman Samuel Johnson. I think Webster was somewhat proud that his dictionary had bumped British English out of the linguistic spotlight.

So how can we celebrate Dictionary Day?

Celebrate Words!

1. Enjoy Nonsense Words

Read Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky and mark all the words you cannot find in a dictionary.

2. Learn Some New Words

I found these gems at various places on the web -


FUSTIGATE - to cudgel or beat

BEJUGGLE - to outwit by trickery or deception; to cheat

BATRACHOPHAGOUS - one who eats frogs

PANDICULATION - stretching and yawning before going to bed or when waking

ULOTRICHOUS - having very wooly hair

Or just browse through your dictionary for something that catches your eye.

3. Adopt a "Dying" Word

At Save The Words, you can find words that are going out of use and try to revive them. You can also sign up for a word a day email.

Enjoy the day!!

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